Sunday, August 17, 2014

China Can Steer Afghans Away from Chaos

Moheb Arsalan J.
Aug. 4, 2014
China recently appointed Sun Yuxi as a special envoy for Afghanistan's affairs. Sun, who has served as Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan and India, arrived in Kabul on July 23, meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as both presidential candidates hoping to replace him. Both sides discussed their mutual interest in a stable Afghanistan and the potential for increased cooperation between the two countries.

During the reign of former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah, the Sino-Afghan relationship saw both sides commit to increased mutual support and economic cooperation. However, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, China opted for a more reserved foreign policy in Afghanistan.

China has done its best to avoid being dragged into Afghan geopolitics or becoming an active player in the Afghan political quagmire. Rather, it has kept an eye on developments in Afghanistan through Pakistan, its most trusted ally in the region.

After the Taliban came to power in the late 1990s, China remained impartial, despite its wariness at potential spillover of the Taliban political agenda to its western regions.

As an immediate neighbor to Afghanistan, China cannot remain a bystander or merely a business participant in Afghanistan's affairs.

It must play a bigger and more active role in the stability of the country, particularly when Western countries are packing up to leave, a transition that is putting enormous political and economic pressure on Afghanistan.

The appointment of Sun as China's special envoy for Afghanistan's affairs is a positive development in this process. Now, China should focus on a number of practical follow-on steps.

First, China needs to be closely involved in supporting a smooth political transition in Afghanistan. Looking at the reactions to the announcement of the preliminary results of the presidential elections, Afghan candidates find it hard to accept loss in elections and may turn on each other violently.

Such reactions can lead to significant instability in Afghanistan that may not only embolden the insurgency in this country but also threaten Afghanistan's immediate neighbors, including China.

China needs to join hands with the international community to encourage all sides to accept the results of the elections, and to contribute to a peaceful political transition and stability in Afghanistan.

Second, China can contribute to Afghanistan's political stability by undertaking a more proactive role in building trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan, helping them overcome political hostility.

Kabul has long complained of a lack of genuine support from Islamabad in quelling the insurgency and getting positive results from ongoing peace talks. Several times, Karzai has expressed his view that Pakistan may have significant influence over the success of the political dialogue with the Taliban and other groups resisting Kabul.

As a close ally of Pakistan in the region, China can play a more vital and more successful role than many Western countries have done so far in mediating between Afghanistan and its southeastern neighbor.

Finally, China can help contribute to Afghanistan's political stability by playing a more active role in supporting the Afghan government's security establishment.

Working closely with the international community, China should help in training and equipping Afghan national security personnel.

Also, China can help Kabul share the economic burden of paying its security bills until the latter can do this on its own.

Through political, security and economic cooperation, China can lead more effective efforts to bring lasting stability to Afghanistan and the wider region.

Through revived regional trade, China can also create economic prosperity for not only Afghans or Chinese, but all of the peoples of South and Central Asia.
This article was also published on Global Times at:

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