China hosted the first ever trilateral dialogue between Foreign Ministers (FM) from Afghanistan, China and Pakistan in Beijing on December 26. Chinese FM Wang Yi’s shuttle diplomacy at Kabul and Islamabad is to thank for this development. China has emerged as an honest peace broker, and this has been welcomed by both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This will have a significant impact on regional stability.
Afghanistan has been a playground for superpowers for more than four decades and has suffered because of it. Warlords, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State have added to the mayhem. Most recently, when 150,000 NATO troops left the country, it was left completely vulnerable to militant groups. This ignited extremism and terrorism in the entire region.
Pakistan has been a host to more than 500,000 Afghan refugees for decades. It has also tried to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan but owing to some of Islamabad’s faulty policies in the past as well as the presence of Afghan Taliban on its soil have soured relations. Having sacrificed over seventy thousand of its citizens and security personnel in the ensuing period and driving out terrorists from their safe havens, Pakistan feels it has done enough. On the other hand, most miscreants holed up in Afghanistan continue sporadic terror attacks in Pakistan. Various vested interests have added fuel to the fire of mistrust.
Pakistan has not only driven out anti-Afghan miscreants from its soil, the Taliban control more than forty percent of Afghan territory and do not require safe havens in Pakistan
Diverse initiatives have been made to bring peace back to Kabul but have either failed or been sabotaged. Having grown wary of Washington’s double standards towards it, Kabul has filed a lawsuit against it at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Armed Forces of USA and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been accused of being responsible for heinous crimes pertaining to gross human rights violations in Afghanistan. This speaks volumes regarding the level of trust between the US and Afghanistan.
To add to Pakistan’s woes, US President Donald Trump has issued a stern warning to Islamabad that it must stop offering cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies. Pakistan has not only driven out anti-Afghan miscreants from its soil, the Taliban control more than forty percent of Afghan territory and do not require safe havens in Pakistan.
On the other hand the Chinese initiative is on a totally different plane. Chinese FM Wang Yi said “Our dialogue is not targeted at any other party nor will it be subject to influence from other countries or forces,” adding that the dialogue will complement other existing mechanisms and contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. It is amply clear that it this is not a zero sum game.
Beijing’s formula is one of inclusiveness. The Chinese have welcomed Afghanistan’s participation in their Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) of which the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project. Currently the CPEC routes through Gwadar and terminates at Kashgar from where it fans into the BRI spreading into Central Asia and onwards to Europe and Africa. Inviting Afghanistan to join CPEC and BRI will have double dividends. Firstly Afghanistan will be able to reap the fruits of development and economic progress, secondly the security threats to these mega project will be diminished.
The China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ trilateral dialogue mechanism has its own challenges. The level of trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan is shaky at best. Bridging this gap will require a step by step approach.Secondly India has been opposing CPEC while Afghanistan and India are close partners and signatory to a strategic partnership accord. It remains to be seen how India will react to Afghanistan joining CPEC. Thirdly, some Western countries cannot understand China’s idea of building a community with a shared future for humanity, and some scholars even argue that China is using the BRI as a tool to seek hegemony. Major countries are actively touting their policies in the region. For instance, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor advocated by Japan and India and Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy are an attempt to counter Beijing’s expanding presence in the region. Such divisive thoughts may jeopardize China’s BRI cooperation with countries along the route; hence China must stay firm and steer clear of its detractors’ ploys.
Pakistan’s proposal of establishing working panels in politics, military, intelligence, economy and refugees have been welcomed by Afghanistan and supported by China and should be given the chance to play out.
The three countries reaffirming their commitment to pushing forward the reconciliation process in Afghanistan; calling on the Taliban to join in the process; their willingness to synergize their own development strategies with China’s BRI and to explore the possibility of trilateral partnership under this initiative are all a step towards achieving peace and prosperity.
The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China
Published in Daily Times, December 30th 2017.