Tuesday September 21, 2021

Peace overtures

August 01, 2021

Beijing has an important role to play in the Afghan peace process so it may lead to an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement. This was noted by the Pakistan Foreign Office while welcoming the recent talks between a high-level Taliban delegation and the Chinese foreign minister. During Wednesday’s meeting in the Chinese city of Tianjin, China’s FM Wang Yi informed the Taliban delegation led by the group’s second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, that they are expected to play an important role for peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction of Afghanistan. With regard to concerns of the country becoming a staging ground of groups hostile to Beijing, the Chinese also sought assurances from the Taliban to crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, terming the group a direct threat to its national security. In response, the Taliban have pledged not to let the ETIM or any other terrorist group use Afghan soil to launch attacks in other countries.

Although the two countries share a very narrow border on rough terrain, China’s relations with Afghanistan are both economic and security-related in nature. Following the US withdrawal expected at the end of this month, China would not like to see the country slide into chaos since it sees the possibility of utilising its geostrategic position as a gateway to Central Asia under Beijing’s mammoth Belt and Road Initiative, along with the potential for exploration of natural resources. China also has security concerns in light of the ETIM’s past activities against China, as well as the recent attack on its nationals in Pakistan. Already, there has been an increase in terrorist activities by the TTP inside Pakistan, and with the presence of several national and international terrorist groups in Afghanistan as revealed in a recent UN report, these are natural apprehensions in all neighbouring countries.

While there have been some concerns that the Taliban are being treated like a ‘government-in-waiting’ by some countries, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s word of caution to countries of being duped by so-called promises of peace from a violent group that continues attacking the country’s security forces and takeover of key towns, the unfortunate reality is that such engagements are not new and may be a practical reality for most. The most pressing demand of any country engaging the Taliban is to ensure a peaceful settlement of the conflict and use the relationship to nudge the group to negotiate with the Afghan government. Moreover, states have a right to engage with and seek assurances from all parties as far as possible threats to their own citizens are concerned. Of course, the Taliban will use such high-profile visits to their advantage on the world stage as they appear to be somewhat concerned about their international image this time around.

With fears that the US and other key Western players will all but abandon Afghanistan in the near future, China – as a rising global power – is keen to fill the vacuum. It is already part of the Extended Troika on Afghanistan comprising the US, Russia, and Pakistan, and was also part of the quadrilateral coordination group involving the US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the past. President Ghani, too, has acknowledged Beijing’s potential influence as he termed China a key country which can help restore peace in Afghanistan during a four-day visit to Beijing in 2014. Since then, Beijing has been involved both publicly and privately in the Afghan reconciliation process, having hosted several Taliban delegations, including one led by Baradar, as part of its efforts to promote peace – a role given all the more importance globally due to its close relationship with Pakistan. While it remains to be seen what a future Afghan government will look like, the entire region and beyond must come together and be invested in a peaceful outcome to the never-ending conflict.