Afghan Taliban to turn ex-military bases into special economic zones

An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at the gate of Bagram US air base.

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

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

Foreign military forces had been in the country for two decades.

The decision was announced by acting deputy prime minister for economic affairs Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

“It was decided that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce should progressively take control of the remaining military bases of the foreign forces with the intention of converting them into special economic zones,” Mullah Baradar said in a statement on Sunday.

He added that project will begin with sites in the capital of Kabul and the northern Balkh province but did not give further details.

Afghanistan is estimated to be sitting on natural resources – including natural gas, copper and rare earths – worth more than $1tn.

However, much of those reserves remain untapped due to decades of turmoil in the country.

In August 2021, the last US military flight left Kabul airport, marking the end of a 20-year presence in Afghanistan and America’s longest war. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more.

Since the withdrawal of foreign military forces Afghanistan’s finances have since been hit by a number of other major issues. Sanctions have been placed on members of the government, the central bank’s overseas assets have been frozen, and most foreign aid – which previously supported its economy – has been suspended.

Earlier this year, the Taliban said it planned to sign a contract with a Chinese firm to drill for oil in northern Afghanistan. The 25-year deal underscores China’s economic involvement in the region.

Beijing has not formally recognised Afghanistan’s Taliban administration but it has significant interests in the country, which is at the centre of a region important to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

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

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