Expanding its role in Afghanistan, China to help build dam, roads

by Reuters
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 14:57 GMT

In this 2011 file photo a boy forces his donkey to move near a village at the foot of Walay valley, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Kunar province. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Image Caption and Rights Information

China wants the country to be stable, both to help it exploit mineral resources and to weaken Islamist militants

(Corrects location of Chaman in paragraph 5)

KABUL/BEIJING Feb 10 (Reuters) - China has promised to help build a hydroelectric power plant in a violent Afghan border region, as well as road and rail links to Pakistan, in the latest sign it is taking a more active role in Afghanistan.

The assistance will include an unspecified amount of financing, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, Sirajul Haq Siraj, said on Tuesday, a day after senior Afghan, Chinese and Pakistani diplomats met in Kabul.

"China agreed to support relevant initiatives for projects including the Kunar hydropower plant and strengthening road and rail connections between Afghanistan and Pakistan," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

The planned 1,500 megawatt dam on the Kunar River, was previously supported only by Pakistan, which could buy some of the electricity it generates.

In 2013, Pakistan said it would also build a motorway connecting the Pakistani city of Peshawar to Kabul, as well as a railway line from Chaman, on the Pakistani side of Afghanistan's southeastern border to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Kunar is one of Afghanistan's most active battlefields, with deep valleys and forests near the Pakistan border providing cover for different factions of the Taliban.

China's involvement could speed up work on these projects, though major Chinese investments including a large copper mine and railway link near Kabul have been put on hold partly because of militant violence.

Siraj said the amount of Chinese financing for the dam and other projects would be decided in later trilateral meetings.

At the meeting, the diplomats also discussed ways to bring Taliban militants to the negotiating table, following a Chinese proposal late last year for a "peace and reconciliation" forum.

"The three sides resolved to make concerted efforts in maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan," Pakistan said in a statement.

China has growing interests in Afghanistan, which offers a possible route to the sea from China's landlocked west.

China wants the country to be stable, both to help it exploit mineral resources and to weaken Islamist militants it says operate in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Mirwais Harooni in Kabul, Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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