Stability in Afghanistan has become a grave concern after the withdrawal of US and NATO forces. Afghanistan has a 2,250 km long border with Pakistan, which is highly regulated and porous, one that fans terrorist activities across both sides. China, on the contrary, has only a narrow 76 km border strip with Afghanistan. Terrorist activities are being launched from within Afghanistan in western province of China, Xinjiang. Therefore, all three countries have been badly affected by cross-border terrorism. They need a better border management strategy. They need practical and concerted steps to eliminate terrorism and regulate their borders.
Both Pakistan and China have a common concern about the security situation in Afghanistan as it affects both countries. They have developed a common and bilateral understanding on the issue but now they want a trilateral approach to address the issue. The Islamabad-Kabul-Beijing talks on the issue of ensuring stability in Afghanistan, has been steadily working these days.
In this regard, the first trilateral strategic dialogue was held in Kabul on 9 February, which was attended by Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, and Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary led the Pakistan delegation. All three countries declared their resolve to work closely and make concerted efforts to weed out terrorism.
Pakistan wants an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process with no external interference inside Afghanistan. Both Afghanistan and China support Pakistan on this principle and all have reached a broad consensus to create conditions for peace and stability in Afghanistan. They believe that regional cooperation, common anti-terrorism strategy, trade, and commerce could help them to end the menace of terrorism.
A continued dialogue every six months at the foreign secretary-level could help them to tackle terrorist-related issues. Pakistan and China should coordinate their security and defense cooperation in a way to tackle terrorism in the region and Afghanistan, as suggested by Liu Jianchao.
Traditionally Beijing remained away from the Afghan political stalemate but remained active economically. Now the strategy has been changed and Beijing has been taking part in resolving the Afghan stalemate. It is, however, not true that China has been increasing its influence in the region. China has been closely working with Pakistan and Afghanistan to address terrorism.
China also wants to build a new physical infrastructure in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to enhance its investment in these countries. China will finance the 1,500 megawatt Kunar hydro dam from where Pakistan could also purchase cheaper electricity. The dam was only backed by Pakistan but now China also supports the project.
Pakistan also plans to link Peshawar with Kabul via motorway and Chaman with Kandahar via rail. China may also assist this road connectivity. Both Kunar and Kandahar have remained active battlegrounds for militants during the war with the Soviets and later. Development might end the militancy in those areas.
There are security disturbances in Balochistan too but China is committed to develop Gwadar and its link infrastructure. As a whole Xinjiang, Afghanistan, and Balochistan are volatile. They were neglected regions in the past but with massive Chinese financial assistance the fate of these regions would likely to change.
Both Xinjiang and Afghanistan are landlocked and they could get a faster access to sea through Gwadar and Pakistan has been more than willing to provide facilities to both China and Afghanistan to link up with Gwadar for commercial purposes and not for military purposes.
Diplomatically, both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been forging close ties with Beijing. Pakistan is a traditional ally of China. Afghanistan has been evolving new ties with China. It is a common among Pakistani leaders to visit Beijing after assuming powers in the past couple of decades.
Like Pakistani leaders, after coming into power, President Ashraf Ghani also undertook his first visit to Beijing last fall. This signals a shift in his country’s foreign policy and like Pakistan, Afghanistan has also been closely aligning with China. Afghanistan is a neighbor of China and under its good neighborly policy, Afghanistan would be immensely benefited.
President Ghani has adopted Pakistani logic in befriending China. This would also bring Afghanistan closer to Pakistan. The process has been started. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are important players in China’s Central Asia economic belt policy. Afghanistan separately wants physical connectivity with Pakistan, China, and Central countries.
Being the largest economy in the world, China just wants to share its developmental experience with Afghanistan and Pakistan. China has just established the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) to lift the infrastructure of Asia.
Geo-strategically, United States and India have the potential to disturb the emerging Kabul-Islamabad-Beijing strategic cooperation in Afghanistan. India wants to play the central role in Afghanistan under US blessings after its withdrawal. US also suspects emerging China in Afghanistan and the region. One hopes the trilateral dialogue will address many issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan with Chinese support and wisdom.