S M Hali
Islamic State has the potential of making inroads into Afghanistan. In such a milieu, better cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan would reap far greater dividends than just financial or military ties
China, Pakistan and Afghanistan have a converging view on finding peace in the war-ravaged region. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was on a two-day official visit to Islamabad, graciously offered China’s services to mediate in stalled efforts to engage the Afghan Taliban in peace negotiations. This statement was welcomed by both Kabul and Islamabad, since it reflects China’s desire to play a more active role in a region that welcomes its interest and engagement.
The announcement came on the heels of the first round of the Sino-Af-Pak trilateral strategic dialogue that was held in Kabul on February 9, 2015. Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai (distant cousin of Hamid Karzai) and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry co-chaired the dialogue. During the groundbreaking trilateral, consensus was reached on making joint efforts in maintaining the peace and stability of Afghanistan and the region with stress on an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peaceful reconciliation process. The Chinese foreign minister’s solemn offer of China’s mediating role adds fresh impetus to the process.
The Sino-Af-Pak focus is on combating terrorism, extremism and separatism, which pose a major threat to the security and stability of the three countries and the region. The trio has suffered at the hands of terrorists and a combined effort will go a long way in eradicating the scourge of terrorism. In the next round of events, China has expressed that to build a framework of action, it will invite five delegations of senators, media, diplomats, friends and think-tanks from Afghanistan and Pakistan to visit China in 2015.
Infrastructure development by China in supporting relevant projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan include strengthening the highway and rail link between Afghanistan and Pakistan, working on the Kunar hydroelectric dam, pushing forward connectivity and enhancing economic integration. China has welcomed Pakistan’s hosting of the fifth foreign ministerial conference of the ‘Istanbul Process’ on Afghanistan.
Pakistan, on its part, has made numerous efforts to strengthen ties with Afghanistan. The visits to Afghanistan by Army Chief General Raheel Sharif and the Director General (DG) Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with the purpose to accelerate efforts on the war against terror shows sincerity of purpose by Pakistan. Similarly, the army chief’s visits to the US, UK and China, and sharing with their leaderships details of his interaction with Afghan commanders, depict a renewed acknowledgement of Pakistan’s pivotal role for the future of Afghanistan. In the same vein, the visit to Pakistan and China by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani brought in a whiff of fresh air.
The renewed bonhomie between Afghanistan, China and Pakistan must be used to tackle the various issues of militancy and cross-border terrorism. Border control on both sides of the Durand Line can be effectively tackled through the use of modern technology. Afghanistan has made a good beginning by arresting miscreants suspected of involvement in the December 16 heinous attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. The next logical step for Afghanistan would be to apprehend Mullah Fazlullah, who is directing terror attacks across the border from Afghanistan, and hand him over to Pakistan.
A fresh challenge has emerged with the advent of Islamic State (IS), which has the potential of making inroads into Afghanistan. In such a milieu, better cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan would reap far greater dividends than just financial or military ties.
A harmonised Pak-Afghan relationship overseen by China will be a guarantee to draw maximum dividends from economic opportunities, which is in the best interest of all three. China is ready to invest in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, while mega projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Silk Road are likely to benefit all three countries and the region.
Recent events in Afghanistan, like the conclusion of the ISAF and NATO mission at year-end 2014, have provided an opportunity for both China and Pakistan to assist Afghan forces in tackling the security situation. Both China and Pakistan have offered their resources to train, arm and equip the Afghan national army and police. The Afghan government is positively inclined to take up the Sino-Pak offer.
The Afghan refugees’ continued stay in Pakistan is a strain on the host’s already frail economic situation. Pakistan, along with the UN and EU, should take steps to facilitate the early return of the refugees to their homes. The responsibility for timely repatriation and rehabilitation of all Afghan refugees still languishing in Pakistan rests with the Afghan government, which must take due interest to resolve the issue of Afghan refugees as a priority policy matter to honour its citizens.
The new Afghan government has entered into a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US and NATO. It would be befitting for the Afghan government to also consider signing a similar arrangement with China and Pakistan. Af-Pak rapprochement initiatives along with evolving the Chinese role in Afghanistan are likely to have positive results.