With China’s explicit interest in helping Afghanistan’s peace efforts, officials and analysts in Afghanistan are heralding a new era in relations between Kabul and Beijing. In February, visiting Chinese Foreign Minister told a press conference in Islamabad that Beijing is ready to facilitate the Afghan peace negotiations. This was the first time that a top Chinese official confirmed the country’s intention to play an important role in ending the 14-year of the conflict in Afghanistan. With the government of Afghanistan attempting to start a new round of peace negotiations with the Taliban, it is widely believed that China is well positioned for Afghanistan in the process.
The government of Afghanistan under former President Hamid Karzai made some efforts to expand relations between Afghanistan and the regional powers such as Russia and China. Both China and Russia are increasingly concerned with the future of Afghanistan and the possibility of a prolonged insurgency in the country after final conclusion of the US troop withdrawal. President Karzai made visits to China in recent years which underscored his government’s efforts to boost relations with Beijing and promote regional support for Afghanistan. After a long absence from the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, China’s signal of its will to play a more engaging role in the construction and the development sector as well as the country’s post-NATO security is a promising development for the war-torn country.
President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to China marked the beginning of the new era of relations between the two countries. During the visit, the president highlighted Chinese role and the country’s unique position in supporting Afghanistan’s peace negotiations to end the long-lasting insurgency in the country. The visit to China was aimed at Chinese help in convincing Pakistan to do more in helping Afghanistan to resume negotiations with the militant groups. The trip was part of regional diplomatic efforts by the new government in Afghanistan to kick-start the stalled peace talks which abruptly ended by President Karzai while he was in power.
China’s future role is seen as highly important in the international efforts to stabilize the country and develop its fragile economy. China has invested extensively in development projects and mining sector and is expanding its presence in the Afghan market. The Chinese companies are considered as the leading investors in the crude Afghan mining and construction sectors. In addition to the economic ties, China also plays a remarkable role in promoting regional cooperation in supporting the Afghan government. Afghanistan and China upgraded their relations to “strategic level” during Hamid Karzai’s presidency and Afghanistan was granted the status of observer country in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is led by China and Russia. With the US preparing to conclude its exit from Afghanistan, Chinese officials know very well that the post-2014 security situation in Afghanistan will have some inevitable impacts on China's security.
Closer relations between Afghanistan and China will attract more aid and investments from China which will greatly contribute to Afghanistan’s economic development and extraction of the vast untapped underground resources. China could also play a crucial in supporting Afghanistan in developing its armed forces. Given that China is a powerful member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), it can support development of Afghanistan Afghan security forces through the SCO.
Regional Security is a prime concern for China who is a major superpower and a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Beijing now appears to enhance its diplomatic engagement in the Afghan conflict. Summits participated by China, Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years have signaled that Beijing is willing to increase its engagement in Afghanistan's security challenges. Since 2012, Chinese officials have made explicit efforts to convince the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to work closely with each other on controlling the tribal and border areas between the two countries.
It is believed that armed Uighur separatists of China, which demand independence of Chinese Muslim region of Xinjiang, a province bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, are being trained at militants’ training centers in North Waziristan. With the bulk of US and NATO forces withdrawn from Afghanistan, the operation of the Uighur separatists in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a serious concern for Chinese authorities.
After the US and NATO conclude their Afghan mission, the Afghan security forces may still remain engaged in a war with the Taliban. A prolonged war in Afghanistan will allow the ‘Eastern Turkmenistan's Independence Movement’ which is seen by Beijing as a terrorist group to seek shelter and find safe havens in Taliban-controlled areas on both sides of Afghan-Pakistani border. Chinese officials are also concerned that continued instability in Afghanistan will increase production of opium and drug trafficking into China through the volatile Xinjiang province of the country.
Another concern for the Chinese officials is stability of Pakistan that is a closest ally to China. The prospect of a long-lasting war in Afghanistan and a possible Taliban resurgence could be seen as a potential threat to stability of Pakistan too. A prolonged turmoil in Afghanistan will unpredictably involve Pakistan, which is considered as a strategic backyard to China. However, instability in Afghanistan would trigger more proxy wars between India and Pakistan on the Afghanistan ground which leaves China in an extremely difficult position.
So far China and the United States have had a somehow shared approach over the Afghan conflict. Like the United States, China wants a stable Afghanistan as a regional economic partner and a crude market for Chinese products. On the other hand, China knows very well that Afghanistan’s situation will have impacts on the central Asian States which are neighboring China and have direct impacts on Xinjiang. During the past decade and half, China has not had a significant place in providing aid assistance to Afghanistan, but it has been one of the leading investors in the country’s nascent economy. With the US and NATO declining their presence in Afghanistan, China is moving in with its multi-billion dollar investments in the economy of Afghanistan which will, in turn, the efforts for making a long-lasting peace in Afghanistan.