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May 2, 2020

Chinese role in Afghan peace

Islamabad

May 2, 2020

China behind the curtains has been playing a significant role to help the peace dialogue between the US and Taliban to succeed. On the other hand, peace spoilers are continuously trying to spoil the Chinese efforts through disruptions in the peace process. There is now a broad understanding that “there is no military solution to the problem” and “no Afghan should remain outside this political process.”

The presence of American troops in China’s backyard has been seen as a serious strategic threat by Beijing but the country has also witnessed that the American operations have curtailed to a great extent terrorist groups that were endangering the southern Chinese region.

While China has been closely following the peace agreement signed by the US and Taliban in Doha on Feb. 29, 2020, it has not reacted with great enthusiasm but is watching the events unfolding closely. China does not want more instability in Afghanistan and fears that the agreement could falter in the coming days. That could prolong the civil war, delay the US withdrawal or lead to multilateral alternatives. Meanwhile, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, is continuously visiting the region to implement the peace accord in Afghanistan.

It is due to a cautious policy that economic ties between China and Afghanistan have not significantly grown over the years. Chinese have invested in two mega-infrastructure projects — the Anyak copper mine and the Amu Darya oil project — in Afghanistan but both the projects have not been successful due to the ongoing conflict.

The possibility of security vacuum in Afghanistan is growing and also the possibility of resurgence of even more violence engulfing the country, which has common borders with China and a capricious Xingjian province.

Yun Sun, the director of the China program and co-director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center, says in a research paper: “After two decades of developing ties with both the Afghan government and the Taliban, China has emerged with a special facilitatory role in the peace process. It is pleased to see plans for a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan yet remains skeptical that Washington will go through with it. At the same time, Beijing is deeply pessimistic about the future of the peace process and a power vacuum left by departing American forces, and is preparing for multilateral engagement down the road to address the issue.

“China sees its role in Afghanistan beyond the peace deal as cautious and flexible. It sees its role in Afghan security in three ways: as marginal in the sense that it is not a primary party to the conflict; as indispensable in the sense that China is a great power and a neighboring country that cannot be ignored; and as central in the sense that Chinese investment will be critical for the country’s future post-conflict reconstruction and economic development. The Afghan peace process still has a long way to go, and China will not be excluded.”

On the other hand, Pakistan has always supported the Afghan dialogue as the only option for successful peace process in the war-torn country. Pakistan is the key player and supporter of peace in Afghanistan as peace in Afghanistan would mean peace in Pakistan. No other country in the world has sacrificed so much in this war as Pakistan did.

It is to be seen if in future after the US withdrawal, Beijing will develop stronger ties with Afghanistan in near future, increasing its development aid, diplomacy, capacity building and military assistance. But there are chances that Americans will not abandon Afghanistan fully and keep some sort of military presence there. According to experts, Chinese strength and development model through engagement and connectivity will work best for the Afghans.