Amidst the shifting winds of diplomacy, a trilateral bond emerges. China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, entwined in destiny’s embrace, have embarked on a voyage of shared aspirations, their interests in unison. A narrative of forging stronger ties unfolds, weaving a tapestry of unity and hope, in the realm of security, economy, and defense.
The Trilateral Foreign Minister’s Security Dialogue between China Afghanistan and Pakistan was held in which Pakistan and Afghanistan reviewed their bilateral relations in various areas including politics, economics, trade, connectivity, peace and security, and education. The Afghan Foreign Minister held meetings with Pakistani leaders. China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang participated in the trilateral dialogue. Pakistan is committed to pursuing continuous and practical engagement with the Afghan Government and desires a peaceful, prosperous, stable, and connected Afghanistan.
China, as the third participant in the dialogue, has significant interests in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beijing is a key economic and defense partner of Pakistan and has made substantial investments in the country, including $60 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. However, in recent years, armed groups have carried out multiple attacks targeting Chinese nationals and interests in Pakistan. In response, China has requested that Pakistan ensure the safety of its citizens and investments. Chinese involvement in Afghanistan is more to do with security concerns than economic interests. China’s primary concern in Afghanistan is to reduce the threat posed by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al-Qaeda-affiliated armed group that has carried out attacks in China in pursuit of creating “East Turkistan” on the Chinese mainland. This is why Beijing continues to engage with the Afghan Taliban. China has maintained its diplomatic presence through the Afghan contact group and other multilateral forums under the SCO and beyond. This positions China to mitigate immediate security threats.
The Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Amir Muttaqi, called upon both Pakistan and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to engage in dialogue. Muttaqi expressed the importance of fostering a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflicts in the region. His visit to Pakistan signifies a significant step towards diplomatic engagement between the two neighboring countries. Muttaqi urged for the resumption of discussions between Pakistan and the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Whilst analyzing, the potential fallout of the probable dialogue which may ensue could constitute the following outcomes. Positive outcomes could entail conflict resolution by engaging in dialogue with the TTP, it could provide an opportunity to address the root causes of the conflict and work towards a peaceful resolution. Open communication channels may help identify common ground and find areas for compromise. Through dialogue it could potentially lead to a reduction in violence. If both Pakistan and the TTP commit to peaceful negotiations, it could result in a decrease in terrorist attacks and a more stable security situation. Similarly, reintegration opportunities through dialogue, as it can provide a platform for the TTP to express their concerns, grievances, and demands. It may offer an opportunity for the group to explore options for reintegration into mainstream society, thereby reducing their militant activities. By Involving the TTP in dialogue it can contribute to a broader peace process in the region. If successful, it may encourage other militant groups to consider peaceful means of resolving conflicts, leading to a more peaceful and stable environment.
Furthermore, it is imperative to be abreast of the negative considerations as well, as trust and intentions when engaging in dialogue with a militant group like the TTP raises questions about their trustworthiness and their true intentions. There is a risk that the TTP may exploit the talks to buy time, regroup, or gain legitimacy without genuinely committing to peace. Likewise, there is a potential for escalation as in some cases, dialogue with militant groups can lead to an escalation of violence if the talks break down or if the group uses the opportunity to launch new attacks. There is a need for caution and robust security measures to mitigate these risks. Correspondingly there could be misconception by public perception and political backlash, as dialogue with the TTP might be faced with criticism from sections of society that view negotiations with militant groups as appeasement or a compromise on principles. Political backlash and public perception can impact the effectiveness and sustainability of the dialogue process. Moreover, inclusion of stakeholders in paramount as the success of dialogue depends on the involvement of all relevant stakeholders. If certain factions within the TTP or other militant groups refuse to participate, it may limit the effectiveness of the dialogue process and hinder the chances of a positive outcome.
FM Muttaqi discussed security issues with Pakistani officials and expressed hope that problems can be resolved through diplomatic channels and negotiations. He believes that the situation will improve in the future. He refuted claims that the TTP is launching attacks on Pakistan from Afghan territory. These comments were made in the context of a recent increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, many of which have been claimed by banned groups including the TTP. The increase in attacks occurred after talks between the TTP and the Pakistani government, hosted in Kabul, broke down, leading to the end of a ceasefire in 2022.
Regarding the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the minister stated that their first priority at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to communicate their desire for a new foreign policy based on cooperation and joint interactions. Their initial focus with Pakistan was on strengthening economic ties and connectivity. Muttaqi stated that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) has fulfilled its responsibility by bringing both sides to the negotiating table and hosting talks between Pakistan and the TTP. He also sought to distance the Afghan Taliban, which came to power in Kabul in 2021, from any responsibility for the TTP. He argued that the TTP is not a new movement and mentioned that Pakistan has acknowledged that 80,000 Pakistanis have died in the past 20 years. He assured Pakistan that his government is working towards peace in the region and stated that their official policy is to prevent bloodshed in Pakistan.
Muttaqi also noted that the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan extends beyond being neighbors. He stated that economic and people-to-people ties have been hindered by political and security concerns, resulting in missed opportunities. He expressed his commitment to turning these challenges into opportunities for positive economic relations. The minister emphasized their efforts to increase regional connectivity through projects such as TAPI, CASA 1000, TAP-500kV, and the Afghan-Trans railway. They recently facilitated the transfer of gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan, reducing the distance to Quetta to 900km. They are committed to supporting this as a permanent route that benefits Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan. During a lecture at the Institute of Strategic Studies on the final day of his four-day visit to Pakistan, FM Muttaqi stated that he hopes that Pakistan’s government and the TTP can resolve their issues through dialogue. He also mentioned that trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan has doubled from US$1.1bn to $2.4bn in the past year and he hopes to increase it to over $5bn. Muttaqi emphasized the need for open communication channels and encouraged both Pakistan and the TTP to come to the negotiating table. He highlighted that dialogue is crucial to achieving stability, peace, and prosperity in Afghanistan and the wider region.
The presence of the Afghan and Chinese FM in Pakistan underscores the growing recognition of Pakistan’s role in facilitating peace talks and reconciliation efforts. Pakistan has long been involved in facilitating discussions between different Afghan factions and has been instrumental in hosting previous rounds of talks. Muttaqi’s call for dialogue with the TTP is a significant gesture towards initiating a peaceful resolution within Afghanistan. The TTP, an extremist organization, has been responsible for numerous acts of violence and instability in the region. By urging the TTP to engage in talks, Muttaqi aims to address the root causes of conflict and find a path towards reconciliation.
The international community will closely observe the response of Pakistan and the TTP to this call for dialogue. The success of such negotiations could have a profound impact on the security situation in Afghanistan and the broader stability of the region. It is hoped that all parties involved will seize this opportunity for constructive engagement and work towards lasting peace in Afghanistan.
In conclusion, the potential positive outcomes of Pakistan holding dialogue with the TTP include conflict resolution, reduced violence, reintegration opportunities, and contributing to a broader peace process. However, it is crucial to carefully consider the negative considerations, such as trust issues, potential for escalation, public perception, and stakeholder involvement. A comprehensive assessment of these factors is necessary before determining the potential for a positive outcome from such dialogue.
Together, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan script a tale of unwavering resolve, etching their names in the annals of history. This trilateral dialogue is rooted in trust and shared interests, which pave the way for a future where security, economy, and defense unite nations alike.
Asma Khan Durrani is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. She is a student of Defence and Strategic Studies. She has done M.Phil. from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. She has also been published internationally. She tweets @AsmaKhan_47 Mailed @ email@example.com