After the US lead NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and Taliban takeover; China emerged not only as one of many mediators in ending the decades of conflict in Afghanistan but started a diplomatic, political and economic engagement in Afghanistan that paves way for playing vital role in crisis management and peacebuilding in war torn Afghanistan. Beijing always emphasized that the peace process should be Afghan-led and Afghan owned with minimal outside agenda-setting. However, China has adopted facilitator role rather than a mediator role. Chinese approach in Afghanistan can be termed unique as it has friendly relations with all major stakeholder to the conflict and therefore enjoys status of honest broker. Since 2015, China hosted the stakeholders to facilitate the discussion.
Chinese approach in Afghanistan mainly stems from three key national interest; security, strategy and economy. On security front, China doesn’t want Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorism, strengthening of Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or emergence of Daesh which is more likely case in present situation wherein the international world has distanced itself from Taliban govt due to their strict policies. Hence, leaving the war-torn Afghanistan aloof can be dangerous for Chinese homeland security and might become a challenge of territorial integrity in future.
Strategically, Afghanistan is located within the Belt and Road Initiative that China is planning to connect countries from India to Iran. The ambitions of China to connect the south Asian countries via railway, energy corridor and other infrastructure projects would remain incomplete without inclusion of Afghanistan. On the other side, inclusion of Afghanistan in the Belt and Road initiative would not only gives China access to Central Asia but would also pave way of economic boom and industrialization in Afghanistan.
Economically, China considers Afghanistan a potential destination for future long-term investment, though it may not seemingly be an incentive for China in present situation, nevertheless, there is no doubt about Afghanistan to become a hub of economic activities if the dream of peace and stability in Afghanistan comes true. The economic interest of China in Afghanistan therefore directly correlates with security and strategic interests.
China maintained state-to-state relations with Kabul since 2001, including military assistance, diplomatic engagement, reconstruction etc. After Taliban takeover, China maintained a working relationship with Taliban Govt as well.
Beside Chinese unique approach in Afghanistan, the edge to China is also in shape of its cordial relations with the neighboring countries of Afghanistan. Pak-China friendship is indeed exemplary. On Afghanistan, the interests of both countries converge; a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is desire of both. This convergence of interests gives a leverage to China to use Pakistan’s existing influence in Afghanistan to continue engagement of Afghan interim setup.
China’s comprehensive national power and economic strength coupled with the most popular international public product of China, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) gives China another edge as a hope for Afghans who are losing hopes from international community amidst strict measures taken by interim setup of Afghanistan. China treats Afghanistan with sincerity, believing in a relationship that is mutually beneficial for the public of both countries; not like western approach of seeking private interests or a sphere of influence in Afghanistan.
China treats Afghanistan with sincerity, believing in a relationship that is mutually beneficial for the public of both countries; not like western approach of seeking private interests or a sphere of influence in Afghanistan.
Despite disappointing approach of Afghan Taliban’s interim set up, China continued the humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan to survive, provided 250 million yuan in food, medicine, winter supplies and other assistance to Afghanistan in year 2021. After the earthquake and floods, China immediately provided 50 million yuan in emergency humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. According to Chinese Embassy in Kabul, Beijing has donated 250 million yuan (US $ 37.4 million) of aid to Afghanistan in Jul 2022.
China and Afghanistan are also deliberating on many other aid projects to benefit the livelihood of the Afghan people.China is also engaging Afghanistan in practical cooperation between the two countries in different fields including trade and economy. For this purpose, China has opened an air corridor to facilitate and expand the imports of agriculture products to the land-locked Afghanistan. China has given duty-free special treatment to 98% of Afghan products, thus helping Afghanistan to increase revenue, enhance capacity for independent development and promote local employment. The people of Afghanistan are in need, they should not be left at the helms of affairs. A total disengagement can never be a solution, but a gradual multifaceted approach would ultimately lead to achieve the desired results.
The people of Afghanistan are in need, they should not be left at the helms of affairs. A total disengagement can never be a solution, but a gradual multifaceted approach would ultimately lead to achieve the desired results.
The basic principle of mutual benefit makes Chinese approach unique and acceptable for all as compared to western approach of controlling other nations using economic or political influence. With gradual increasing of practical cooperation, trade, investment and people to people contact, China is destined to become most reliable friend of Afghanistan within a decade.
The willingness of China to promote BRI initiative to connect with the development strategy of Afghanistan and help Afghanistan in achieving stability, development and economic wellbeing proves China to be a friend of Afghans in need.
The writer is Assistant Professor at National Defence University Islamabad.
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