The Taliban have announced a plan to turn former coalition military installations into what they call ‘Special Economic Zones.’ The acting Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, spoke about the plan on Sunday and said, “Following a thorough discussion, 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. We will support any item which can help us for self-sufficiency.”
Afghanistan’s desire for self-sufficiency was first spoken about by the acting commerce minister, Haji Nooruddin Azizi, in January when he announced the country’s “national self-sufficiency program.” The program calls for Afghanistan to increase domestic production of basic needs, such as food and housing, while also attracting foreign investment.
It’s unclear exactly how many of these ‘Special Economic Zones’ will be created, but there are hundreds of former military bases within Afghanistan. Theses bases vary in size, but according to a 2010 CBS news article in which a US official was cited, there were 400 U.S. and coalition bases within Afghanistan. At the time, these included forward operating bases, camps, combat outposts, and various other military installations. Many, if not most, of these bases, fell out of use over the next 11 years, but the U.S. and coalition forces were still operating several bases at the time of the 2021 withdrawal. At the time of the withdrawal, a Reuters report suggested that the Taliban had been protecting western bases from rival groups under an agreement that all coalition forces would be withdrawn by May 1, 2021.
The announcement to convert former bases to ‘Special Economic Zones,’ comes just weeks after a World Bank report had a better-than-expected assessment of Afghanistan’s economy. The nation has been, and still is, heavily dependent on foreign aid and remains far from providing a quality standard of living for all of its people. But, the World Bank report cited high exports, a stable exchange rate, and strong revenue collection under Taliban leadership, as reasons to look positively upon Afghanistan’s economic future. Foreign investment into Afghanistan, since the Taliban takeover, is also a positive indicator of Afghanistan’s economic future. Most of the foreign investment, so far, has come from China and is aimed at developing Afghanistan’s oil production capabilities.