Dr Huma Baqai
NORTH Korean is not the only country where China’s influence can bring about profound behavioural change. A very important conflict prone country can be prodded towards pro peace initiatives if China has more space in the equation. It is Afghanistan. China is the only neutral power that is geographically adjacent to Afghanistan with no negative historical baggage, it has direct stakes in peace in South Asia. But more importantly has the requisite influence and trust bank to reduce the worsening relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
It is investing more than $ 55 billion dollars in Pakistan to build infrastructure spur of roads, railways and power stations in its One Belt One Road project and has similar development project across Central Asia. China has a keen interest to link Afghanistan to the same grid if it can break out the conflict cycles. The road and electricity projects in western Pakistan are at a constant risk along the volatile Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Terrorist groups now target Chinese interests and personnel in the region because of high impact value. In May 2017, Chinese teachers were kidnapped in Quetta and later killed. Chinese Embassy in Kabul also came under suicide attack in 2017.
Pakistan is doing all it can to address the situation which includes stringent border management, boarder-fencing, a trench and the creation of strong 15000 army personnel division to protect Chinese. The Afghan city of Kunduz which is close to the Xinjiang province and Tajikistan is becoming a spring board for militancy into Central Asia. The Jihadist from Central Asia have been encouraged by Taliban military successes. Jihadist groups from Central Asia are fighting under the flag of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Beijing is aware of the fact that East Turkestan Islamic movement, Uighur nationalist and Islamic movement from China’s Xinxiang Province, is training and fighting with Taliban and Central Asian group in Afghanistan.
Some initiatives have come from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who has persuaded both Pakistan and Afghanistan to establish a trilateral crisis management cell where Foreign Ministers of Pakistan, Afghanistan and China will play an active role to address differences. Mr. Wang is of the opinion that Afghanistan and China are mutual friends. China is also a part of Quadrilateral Coordination Group. The US strategies to address the conflict cauldron in Afghanistan cannot even be categorized as partial success. The strategy to address the issue is frozen in time, more troops will resolve nothing on the ground. US already has 8,400 troops in Afghanistan and is committed to send more, where now US troop presence in Afghanistan is not time specific but condition specific as per Trump’s new policy. However, the complete absence of any diplomatic and political initiative to address the conflict is a sad commentary on the US policy for peace in Afghanistan.
China is far better poised to break the log jam between Pakistan and Afghanistan and between the Taliban and Kabul regime. Beijing has both the vision and the strategy to address the complex conflict matrix of Afghanistan. It is trying to strengthen a counter terrorism network of countries around the region, is also talking to the Afghan Government, engaging the Taliban and is in a position to influence Pakistan. Beijing understand the intrinsic link between regional stability and the success of One Belt One Road project, and it is working towards it. China is also very keen on both Afghanistan and India coming on board the OBOR initiative.
Chinese role as a peace maker in the region is also becoming more pertinent, because US is reverting to Cold War style of politics. Pitching regional powers against each other. Moreover, US now views its engagement with Afghanistan from the prism of curtailing China and Russia. The New World Order is fast moving towards multipolarity, where China is emerging as a more important player. US is trying hard to guard its super power status. Chinese premier in his meeting with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on the side lines of the recently held Shehangai Cooperation meeting said China supports a wide and inclusive political reconciliation process led and owned by the Afghan people, and is ready to assist Afghanistan in realizing its political stability and economic development. China is fast emerging as a player that can deliver what others could not in Afghanistan. It’s worth a try, all else have failed miserably.
— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.