Chinese factor clearer in Afghan peace process as regional ties deepen

By M. Nadeem Alizai Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/16 21:53:39

Relations between China and Afghanistan are growing at a tremendous pace. Last year, Beijing not only played a vital role paving ground in the Afghan reconciliation process, but also helped the unity government in Kabul to improve law and order. Beijing is well-aware of the sensitive security situation in the war-devastated country. Chinese leadership is exploring all possible avenues to establish lasting peace in the neighboring country.

Currently, ties between China and Afghanistan stand on three pillars.

First, Beijing has focused energies on the return of lasting peace and stability in the war-torn country.

Beijing is playing a crucial role helping Kabul in the peace process. China was instrumental in convincing the regional players that Afghan problems need home-made solutions. China has increased pressure - directly and indirectly - on the Taliban to join the peace process.

In December 2016, Chinese, Pakistani and Russian officials discussed a wide range of issues pertinent to the Afghan-led peace process. To advance the talks at the regional level, in mid-February 2017, five more countries joined the meeting in Moscow. The dialogue was fruitful. Red lines regarding the participation of Afghan insurgents in the peace process were drawn. In other words, there will be no reversal of the achievements that Afghans have made in the past 15 years.

Moreover, the Moscow conference on Afghanistan has put pressure on the Taliban while addressing fears from Kabul. Beijing has repeatedly vowed to mediate if the warring parties agree. It is a positive announcement and good solution to the Afghan conflict as China has maintained its image as a neutral player in the new "Great Game."

Second, China is committed to boosting the Afghan economy. The scope of Chinese assistance is multidimensional. It will not only help the Afghan government to stand on its own feet, but help fight extremism and drugs which have largely benefited the local, regional and trans-regional terror outfits.

According to economic indicators and statistics, Afghanistan is a consumer country. Imports weigh more than exports. Kabul is heavily dependent on foreign aid.

Therefore, Chinese policymakers know that any collapse of the Afghan government will likely be due to economic reasons.

Beijing is extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to the war-torn country. The Afghan government has realized that the $54 billion game-changing project could change the fate of the war-torn nation. The Ashraf Ghani administration is keen to join CPEC as it could pull Afghanistan out from the pit of economic dependency.

Kabul's desire to join the multi-billion infrastructure development project was expressed by Afghanistan's Ambassador to Islamabad, Omar Zakhilwal. The Afghan ambassador who served as finance minister in the Karzai administration knows how important CPEC is for his country's economic development.

Extension of CPEC to Afghanistan is not a pipe dream. It is a reality. Pakistan has already completed construction work on Peshawar-Torkham Highway. Work on the Torkham-Jalalabad highway is in progress.

This route will not only provide jobs to Afghans but help Afghan products find easy access to regional and international markets.

Third, Beijing wants to assist the Afghan military in countering terrorism. Afghanistan and China are working on counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics mechanisms. Thus, the relations are also encompassing military-to-military cooperation.

In July 2016, China provided millions of dollars worth of military assistance to Afghanistan. The aid package proved that Beijing is standing by Kabul. China considers Afghanistan a very important neighbor as the Chinese Ambassador to Kabul Yao Jing underlined.

Chinese military assistance is not only helping Kabul but also Beijing. There is no denying that Uyghur militants in Afghanistan enjoy support of local and foreign terrorist groups. Conflicts have become deadlier due to an internal schism in the terrorist groups. In other words, one group of the Uyghur militants is fighting for the Islamic State and another against it. It is not the first case in the region as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has gone through a similar split in the past.

Last year, China played an important role in bringing high-ranking Afghan, Pakistani and Tajik military officials to join forces against terrorism and extremism. In August 2016, the four countries agreed in Urumqi, China, to establish a joint anti-terrorism mechanism.

Strengthening of the bond between the two countries does not come as a surprise. Creating a sense of peace in the neighborhood brings Afghanistan and China closer together.

The author is a Kabul-based Follow him at Twitter at @nadeemalizai


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