For two years, the US State Department and the Pentagon have been incubating a plan to win the Afghan war without actually defeating the Taliban on the battleground. The idea is to triumph commercially by building a “New Silk Road”—a transportation-and-energy route to the West whose long-term financial dividends would prompt combatants to set aside their arms and get rich instead.
Now China is stepping up an apparent effort to outpace the US plan to reconstruct the ancient trade route.
The US idea is a network of roads, electric grids, rail, energy pipelines, and assorted commercial ventures along a channel leading from Afghanistan to the world at large. It would end up in Europe–ignoring China, Russia and Iran, the region’s biggest and most geopolitically assertive players.
Beijing’s less-ambitious version, by contrast, goes east, into China. It does not have a name, but it does appear to be actually materializing. The most recent development is talks between the China National Petroleum Corporation and the Afghan government for rights to drill for natural gas in a large tract south of Turkmenistan. CNPC appears to be in a leading position to win the rights, according to people familiar with the situation.
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