The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Li Baodong, speaking at Tashkent Peace Conference on Afghanistan, extended China’s support to the inclusive political reconciliation process in Afghanistan. He said China saw Afghanistan as an important partner under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project.
Although limited in the past, the Chinese interest in Afghanistan is now growing. Security and economics are major drivers for the increasing Chinese involvement in Afghanistan. China wants a stable Afghanistan with no potential threat to Chinese internal security and investments in the region. It wants to eradicate the basic support and infrastructure for carrying out militancy and extremism through development projects in the war-torn country. Unlike the United States, China does not support a military solution for the Afghan problem. Due to this approach, it has earned the trust of the Afghan government as well as the Afghan Taliban. It is therefore, in an ideal position to play a role in bringing peace in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has also approached China in the recent past as it hopes to get development funds from China. Afghanistan also believes that China can help in convincing Pakistan to influence and pressurise the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.
For stabilising Afghanistan, closer cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is necessary. China wants Pakistan and Afghanistan to cooperate to bring stability in Afghanistan. Chinese diplomatic efforts in this regard may be one of the factors behind the recent bilateral efforts for improvement in Pak-Afghan bilateral relations. China hosted the 1st China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue in December 2017 to help Pakistan and Afghanistan remove mistrust between them. The two neighboring countries agreed to operationalise Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) after Pakistani Prime Minister’s recent one-day visit to Afghanistan. The APAPPS is a joint action plan for working in areas of counter-terrorism and reduction of violence, peace and reconciliation, refugees’ repatriation and joint economic development. It was first discussed during Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua’s talks on her visit to Afghanistanin February this year.
The idea of a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government is gaining further support from several quarters. China is on the forefront in voicing this idea. Both China and Pakistan have conveyed to the Afghan government and other stakeholders that a military solution is not a viable option after a stalemate in 17 years long war. The Afghan President Ghani has taken the right step forward and offered Taliban legitimacy and invited them to participate in negotiations with the government. The recent Tashkent Peace Conference on Afghanistan in which representatives from 25 countries, the European Union and the UN and NATO participated, also termed political settlement a key to the peace and prosperity of Afghanistan in its declaration.
Taliban have refused to talk to the Afghan government in past. They have not yet responded to President Ghani’s offer of talks. Taliban term the Afghan government illegitimate. Talking to the government would be equal to legitimizing its rule. Instead, they want direct talks with the US.
Some tangible actions and assurances from the US may boost the peace efforts. The US, however, has not shown any indication to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan, nor an interest in talking to the Taliban directly. One reason for its preference for the military approach is its desire not to leave Afghanistan as a defeated power. Such a perception would be disastrous for America’s prestige internationally and negatively affect its ability to influence events in future.
A version of this article appeared in The Nation, newspaper.
Samran Ali is working as a Research Assistant at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS). He holds a masters degree in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include the geo-political and strategic issues of South Asia, with special reference to nuclear politics and relations between India and Pakistan, and foreign policy issues of Pakistan.