ISSN 2330-717X

China In Afghanistan: Dividends For Afghanistan And The Region – OpEd

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The historical connection between Afghanistan and China is many centuries old. The relationship began in the 7th century when the Chinese’ monk Xuan Zang visited the Buddhist valley of Bamiyan. China and Afghanistan established their first diplomatic relations in the 1950s. China has both commercial and security interests in Afghanistan, it seems like economic reasons are the reasons why an ever-growing China wants to get involved into other countries. It is widely believed in China that China’s Afghan policy is driven by the Forming of the “March west Strategy”.

Traditionally, Afghanistan has been a low diplomatic priority for China, and China did not have a strong presence historically there. Afghanistan is now becoming an ideal channel for China to implement its strategy of March west to expand its economic and strategic influence to Central Asia, the Middle east and beyond.

China’s economic growth has had a major effect on its foreign policy. China, over past few years, has increased its engagement with Afghanistan mainly moving towards a stronger economic and commercial partnership. Bilateral trade and investments from China have seem considerable augmentations, recently. China’s constructive engagement with Afghanistan going to help and play a vital role in stability at regional level. Afghanistan’s instability affects China’s own stability, particularly that of its terrorism-prone Xinjiang region. Members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Xinjiang-focused Islamic separatist group, have been apprehended in Afghanistan. China fears that an unstable Afghanistan will permit greater use of Afghan territory by the militants to plot attacks on Chinese territory. In addition, the Islamic State Khorasan branch threat in South Asia is growing.

Experts say that China has heavily invested in Pakistan and that is why it wants peace in at least those areas where its “One Belt One Road” project is being implemented. China has built a port in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan as part of its nearly 60-billion-dollar project to establish overland and sea trade routes to reach Middle Eastern, European and African markets. While Chinese authorities enjoy tremendous influence on Pakistan’s civilian and military establishments, Afghanistan is still closer to the United States. Thus, bringing Kabul and Islamabad onto the same page over an Afghan solution won’t be easy for Beijing. The inclusion of Afghanistan in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would boost the country’s economy, but its implementation will be difficult for Beijing without regional consensus.

It is relatively significant to shortly include the SCO in this debate. The goal of the project is to gather all Central Asian republics, all of Afghanistan’s neighbors (and India) around it involving them in restoration of the Afghan economy. In American terms, this is called the Greater Central Asia Project. So, Afghanistan in the SCO provides the US with a convenient mechanism for implementing this GCAP. SCO members are highly concerned about terrorism spillover to their territories once Afghanistan is awash with it. So, the best way they think is to make the country a permanent member, an arrangement that paves the way for the heavyweights of the bloc to get a toehold there through which they can more easily realize their counterterror policies.

China has been expanding its role along its western borders, recently acted as a go in peace talks between Afghan Taliban and Afghan Government arguing that its aim is to control the growing presence of militant groups in the region. The Chinese military personnel has reportedly been spotted conducting patrol within Afghanistan, this patrol are said to have taken place in the Wakhan corridor, a narrow triangular stretch of Afghan territory. The Wakhan corridor is a remote place known for its wind blowing plains and endangered snow Leopards. It separates Pakistan from Tajikistan and is bordered in the North by Chinese Muslim majority Xinjiang province.

For China control of the region or at least influence of the areas along its Western borders has always been a prime security concern and particularly with the relative power vacuum at the moment, it might be an opportunity for China to either start selling or possibly even have direct influence on a small scale. This is about 96 Km border in the Wakhan Corridor and it has been very active for a long period of time, why the 9/11 happened China mobilized 26,000 troops to blockades any influx of the Uyghur militants passing through this region. China has only made minimal contributions to directly support security efforts in Afghanistan, largely differing to the United States, India and NATO.

China Good Offices

There is a trust deficit between Afghanistan and Pakistan which has only deepened, and the fishers has widened in the near past. The shuttle diplomacy carried out by the Chinese foreign minister by visiting Kabul as well as Islamabad and hosting the trilateral dialogue is a very positive step, because it has provided a platform where the two countries that is Afghanistan and Pakistan will be able to work on seeking to work on their differences, and with China’s support will enable to build the trust and try get back peace in the region. The reason why China is serving as an active mediator is that China is bordering both countries, and China has a leverage trying to persuade them to come closer. China has played a central role in supporting peace talks between Afghanistan and Taliban. Ensuring security in Afghanistan not only contributes to stability in the country but it also allows China to be at fear regarding instability from Afghanistan impacting security and stability in its Western region specifically Xinjiang.

CPEC and Afghanistan

Since October 2016, Afghanistan has shown a strong desire to join CPEC. China has long harbored interests in Afghanistan’s untapped reserves of natural resources but the security situation in the country has prevented further investment and procurement. Pakistan will benefit from easier access to Central Asia through Afghanistan. The war-torn country is in desperate need of infrastructural development and uplifting its economy by access through Chinese investors thus it appears the trilateral cooperation between Afghanistan, China and Pakistan to include Afghanistan in CPEC can be a win for all parties involved.

Benefits for Afghanistan

The security situation in Afghanistan has been steadily declining since 2014, when a large number of international forces has begun to withdraw from the country. Joining CPEC may present several benefits, firstly CPEC is predicted to bring industrialization and investment to Pakistan the quarry will be to benefit its neighbor like Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan has taken several initiatives by building roads to improve connectivity between the two countries. Second, by becoming a part of CPEC and BRI in general Afghanistan will have the opportunity to stabilize its economy by enhancing its trade opportunities. Access to wider BRI will provide many opportunities, first, access to market in China the chance diversifies Afghan trade products by exporting copper, Iron and other resources to other countries of the BRI.

Benefits for China

For China, Afghanistan presents strategic value due to its geographic location at the crossroad of South Asia and central Asia. In addition, its untapped natural resources present a valued economic opportunity. In 2008, China has signed a thirty years agreement with the Afghan government to access Mes Aynak the world’s second largest Copper untapped deposit. The deal which was worth three billion dollars was viewed with great interests and till it stalled due to security concerns.

Benefits for Pakistan

A stable and thriving Afghanistan present several direct benefits to Pakistan. The economic integration and improvement of Afghanistan’s economy and will allow employment opportunities for Pakistani skilled and unskilled labor especially the people living on border areas living in extreme poverty. A cooperative relationship will open up the doors for easier access to trade with Central Asia for Pakistan. Cooperating on economic development while also emphasizing on security will be a win-win for both countries and allow for the improvement of cross border relations. The enormous consumer base in South Asia will facilitate the path for Afghanistan to serve as a land bridge between the South and the North. The new silk road two major subprojects are the CASA-1000 hydro electricity grid and the TAPI, the natural gas pipeline passing through Afghanistan entering Pakistan and ending in India. This will open up new paths for further cooperation between the regional countries.

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