As a country in the crossroads of great civilizations connecting Central Asia to South Asia and East Asia to the Middle East, Afghanistan has historically been of great geopolitical importance offering considerable economic opportunities for its surrounding region. However, throughout the 20th century, due to both internal and external factors, Afghanistan’s surrounding region experienced various political and security failures.
An important aspect of the post-Taliban reconstruction and stabilization is the renewed international and regional attention to the significance of Afghanistan’s geographic centrality as a regional hub and its implications for regional stability and development.
Afghanistan’s centrality particularly offers a great opportunity for energy cooperation in the entire region. With industrial boom and population growth in India and Pakistan, energy needs are growing rapidly leading to increasing dependency on energy import in these two countries. On the other hand in Central Asia, both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are endowed with large amounts of gas reserves, Kazakhstan is a significant oil producer and the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan possess potential in hydropower while having surplus during the summer time. China, with ever-increasing demand for energy resources, needs access to energy resources of Central Asia and Iran. While Iran needs access to Afghanistan’s fresh water resource, Afghanistan currently imports most of its gas and fuel from Iran and Turkmenistan.
The materialization of such a potential for complementarity in the area of energy is however dependent on connectivity between these countries. Afghanistan is well positioned to serve as a regional land bridge connecting these countries with easy access to one another and thus assuring win-win scenarios for energy cooperation in the region. Regional connectivity through Afghanistan cannot only connects energy suppliers to energy importers in the region but can also expand regional trade in other areas. Improved connectivity and expanded trade through Afghanistan can have a strategic impact on regional security and stability. However, a strategic shift must come in the regional paradigm of zero-sum-game, as the only possible and doable solution is a win-win solution for all parties.
In the past twelve years, there have been a number of regional frameworks initiated jointly by the Afghan Government and regional and international partners, including Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) and Istanbul Process of Heart of Asia, aiming at leveraging Afghanistan’s centrality as a regional hub to boost connectivity and trade in the area of energy. However, various challenges including insecurity in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the political economy of the region continue to slow down the process of regional economic integration in Afghanistan’s surrounding region. There is need, in this context, to learn from the successful regional integration schemes around the world on the basis of multilateral economic interests of all neighbouring countries. The aim of this conference is to provide an opportunity to examine the role of Afghanistan’s centrality in ensuring energy security in the region while identifying key challenges, outlining key policies and discussing the best practices in dealing with such challenges.