The latest: If the proliferation of advanced military weapons into the wrong hands, especially the inexperienced Taliban fighters, wasn’t enough, the group now plans to open up strategic military bases across Afghanistan for businesses and convert them into special economic zones.
- The decision was taken during a meeting of the Taliban’s Economic Commission with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund, the Taliban’s deputy premier for economic affairs, in Kabul.
- The Taliban’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce said that it will progressively take control of the remaining military bases of the foreign forces with the intention of converting them into special economic zones.
- These trade centers will promote “economic growth and development” in the war-ravaged country, as per the Taliban.
- For this purpose, pilot operations will begin only on the bases in Balkh and Kabul. There are hundreds of foreign bases in the country. While the number has varied over the decades, there are hundreds of bases of varying sizes in Afghanistan.
- Bagram is among the military bases being converted into special economic zones. Bagram, located some 70 kilometers north of Kabul, had for nearly 20 years served as the nerve center of the U.S. counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan and military operations against the then-insurgent Taliban.
- The Taliban had earlier said that they are focused on boosting economic self-sufficiency through trade and investment. Some foreign investors have expressed concerns over a series attacks, including at a hotel popular with Chinese businessmen, claimed by Islamic State.
Back story: The Taliban’s acting commerce minister had told Reuters in December that his ministry was working on the plan for former American bases. Afghanistan’s economy has struggled and aid agencies are warning of a severe humanitarian crisis since the Taliban took over in 2021.
- The Taliban’s takeover sparked a cut in development funding, the freezing of foreign-held central bank assets and sanctions enforced on the banking sector.
- Western troops had abandoned numerous fully functioning bases in the country during the 2021 exit. Visuals emerging after the change of government in the warn-torn country showed that US troops had also left behind 73 aircrafts, nearly 100 vehicles and other equipment. Officials had said at the time that the equipment was rendered useless before being abandoned.
Zoom out: What is important to note here that many strategic changes can also take place due to this decision. There has been a power vacuum in Afghanistan ever since the US withdrawal from the country and China is a keen observer looking to expand its opportunities in the region. This might be the perfect opportunity for China to grow its influence over Afghanistan with Taliban already in engaging with the country.
- In fact, China’s trade with Afghanistan has been growing fast and it may become the second-largest trading nation with Afghanistan in 2023 after Pakistan, a situation that bodes well for the continuation of the CPEC part of the Belt & Road Initiative into Afghanistan.
- This move by the Taliban may please China by opening up its strategic bases in various locations for business opportunities.