The Chinese government is now leaning towards Afghanistan. The Communist state is opening its purse strings to the developmental projects in the landlocked country. But there is an hidden agenda. All these moves are for its all-weather friend Pakistan….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
China is moving fast to counter likely moves by the United States and India and is ready to spend billions in Afghanistan to lean on the landlocked nation, In the process, boosting the gameplan of Pakistan.
Concerned about growing violence in Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, when it has committed and begun to invest in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) China, hoping to use its deep pockets, wants to lean on Kabul and pep up Islamabad.
In the bargain, China also wants to consolidate its diplomatic and economic presence in the troubled Afghan-Pak relationship, before the United States seeks to bolster its military presence and regain its lost initiative.
To achieve this, China would not mind committing and spending a few billion in Afghanistan that finds the international financial assistance dwindling and in any case, it is not contributing to political and economic stability.
It is a given that the Chinese intervention in Afghanistan would serve its own interest. Beijing’s interest in Afghanistan is out of its security concerns related to presence of Uighur militants in Badakhshan province. For Beijing, peace and stability in Afghanistan is critical for both its own security and investments in Pakistan.
Equally, it would serve the interest and security goals of Pakistan that pushes for the Taliban returning to power in Kabul in the long run.
This seems a counter-move on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit and a scheduled meeting with US President Donald Trump when the Trump administration is in the midst of formulating its policy in the region. Washington has sought to include India, calling India “the most reliable partner of Afghanistan.”
On a single day, Saturday June 24 (2017), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Kabul and then in Islamabad. He reached Islamabad in the evening after visiting Kabul during the day where he held talks with Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and National Security Adviser Haneef Atmar. The Chinese minister also met Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa.
Pakistan gave the visit the utmost importance and the Chinese minister was received at the airport by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The formal talks were with Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz. Wang’s visit is a follow-up to the discussions the Chinese leadership had with Pakistani and Afghan leaders on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit earlier this month on counter terrorism cooperation and revival of the Afghan peace process.
Being set in motion is a trilateral arrangement under which foreign ministers of the three would meet to work out the details. This will run parallel to the Quadrilateral arrangement that includes the United States as well. The Chinese foreign minister would work to discuss the possibility of setting up a meeting between the four members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Committee ─ Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China.
The four-nation group was formed in January 2016 for reconciliation in Afghanistan through the direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Before Wang Yi arrived in Kabul Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani took note of the significant Chinese move.
“It is the first time that China wants to be a mediator in Afghanistan’s peace process and soon the Chinese Foreign Minister will visit Kabul. Peace with Pakistan was our demand and this must be solved between government and government,” Ghani’s office said in a statement.
Troubled and weakened by internal dissensions and serious external threat, a beleaguered Ghani, even if for diplomatic reasons, has no choice but to welcome the Chinese – even if Pakistan is riding piggy-back on it.
All – the US, India, China among others are concerned at a spate of deadly attacks in Afghanistan. Kabul calls it the handiwork of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, both supported by Pakistan’s ISI. Islamabad routinely denies this.
Two weeks ago, a suicide truck bomber detonated his explosives in the Kabul city, killing over 150 people wounding hundreds other. No group, including the Taliban, claimed responsibly for the attack. But Kabul and US intelligence see the Pak-sponsored Talibans’ hand.
Earlier June, Ashraf Ghani lashed out at Pakistan at the Kabul Process, alleging that it is waging an “undeclared war of aggression” against Afghanistan.
Pakistan had closed the Pak-Afghan border in mid-February this year, following a string of militant attacks that Islamabad blamed on militants hiding in Afghanistan. The closure of the formal crossing points on the 2,600km porous border was ordered after the Sehwan shrine bombing that claimed around 100 innocent lives.
This was Pakistan’s knee-jerk response to the crisis by blaming militants using Afghan territory. The blockade resulted in hardships for people on both sides, more so, landlocked Afghanistan that depends heavily on supplies from Pakistan. A month later, Pakistan lifted the counter-productive blockade.
Existing tensions between the two countries further deepened last month when the Afghan border forces reportedly opened fire on security personnel and civilians on Pakistani side, killing at least nine people. Subsequently, Pakistan Army claimed to have killed 50 Afghan security personnel in a retaliatory move. The Afghans countered it saying only two of its men had been killed.
How this new phase in the “New Great Game” with China emerging as the key player in addition to the existing ones, will depend upon the extent of influence on the ground China is able to exert and to the determination of the Americans, under an unstable and as yet un-determined Trump administration to stay in the game.