Afghanistan: Taliban turn former military base into special economic zone

  • Annabelle Liang
  • business reporter

image caption,

Afghan soldiers guarding the former US Air Force Base in Bagram

Afghanistan’s Taliban government has said it will turn some former foreign military bases into special economic zones for businesses.

Afghanistan faces a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis since the Taliban regained control of the country in August 2021.

Foreign troops have been stationed in the country for 20 years.

The decision was announced by Acting Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradal.

“The Ministry of Industry and Trade has decided to gradually manage the remaining military bases of foreign forces with the intention of converting them into special economic zones,” Mullah Baradar said in a statement on Sunday.

He added that the project would start from sites in the capital city of Kabul and northern Balkh province, but gave no further details.

Muhammad Faizal Bin Abdul Rahman of Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies told the BBC: “The Taliban need more financial resources to improve their governance and gain domestic legitimacy.”

“More importantly, the Taliban must prove their commitment to economic planning, which includes establishing safe zones near the capital and borders for potential foreign investors such as China. …and reviving regional trade with neighboring countries,” he added.

Afghanistan is estimated to be underpinned by natural resources worth more than $1 trillion (831.5 billion pounds), including natural gas, copper and rare earths.

However, many of these reserves remain untapped due to decades of turmoil in the country.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions more.

Since the withdrawal of foreign troops, Afghanistan’s finances have been plagued by a number of other major problems. Sanctions have been imposed on members of the government, the central bank’s overseas assets have been frozen, and most of the foreign aid that previously underpinned the economy has been suspended.

This 25-year pact underscores China’s economic involvement in the region.

Although Beijing does not formally recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it has great interest in the country, which is at the heart of a region important to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the initiative provides financing for emerging countries to build infrastructure such as ports, roads and bridges.

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