New beginning in Sino-Afghan relations

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SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

Dr Raja Muhammad Khan
In the ‘Great Hall of People’ the visiting Afghan President,Ashraf Ghani emphatically said, “We look at China as a strategic partner, in the short term, medium term, long term and very long term.” It is a great commitment of Afghan President with a country (China), with whom; it (Afghanistan) had remained associated very less in its past history. With a western academic background, teaching in American universities and serving the World Bank for quite some time, the new Afghan President,Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai was expected to visit United States and West.
However, contrary to the expectations, he rightly chosen China for his first foreign state visit. Indeed, China is the “most capable nation” in the immediate neighborhood of Afghanistan, which can play a role in the rebuilding of war-torn Afghanistan. While welcoming the Afghan president, Chinese President Mr Xi envisioned, “a new era of cooperation in China-Afghanistan relations” with a clear message to “take development to a new depth and breadth”. President Ghani found Xi’s “vision” for the Asian Continent, as a new book, rather just a ‘new chapter’.China is looking at a regional approach for the solution of regional issues, rather, external non- Asian countries involving in the regional politics and security issues.
Already having signed strategic partnership agreement, with China in 2012, during this visit, China and Afghanistan has inked four agreements mainly concerning; trade and commerce relations, bilateral economic ties, humanitarian aid and travel permits for public servants. China has pledged to provide financial assistance to Afghanistan on many accounts, mainly the developmental sector. It will provide 2 billion Yuan ($330 million) in grants to Afghanistan through 2017. Besides, China will assist Afghanistan in the provision of professional training for 3,000 Afghans over the next five years. It is worth mentioning that, Chinese state owned companies are already working in the mining sector of Afghanistan, exploration and bringing to use of many minerals; copper deposits of Aynak, being the biggest sector. In this regard, Chinese companies will invest $3 billion to develop 5 million-ton copper deposits. Oil and gas exploration in various parts of Afghanistan by Chinese companies is also being undertaken.
Apart from ongoing economic cooperation between China and Afghanistan, this visit of President Ashraf Ghani has many political implications on the regional and global horizon. For the major powers, particularly,those involve or have been part of the great game, the visit is avery clear message that, there has to be end of it and Afghan people would not like to be used as instrument of the global conspiracies and power struggle. They had enough of it and now, Afghan would like to concentrate on the political stabilityand economic propriety of Afghanistan. At this stage, the major powers should help in restoration of peace and economic development of Afghanistan, through capacity building in various fields. It is premature to say, whether, global power will restrain involving in the future politics through Afghan geo-politics.
At the regional level, the message is even louder. The regional countries have been given a message that, rather securing their interests, all should cooperate for the promotion of Afghan interests. And under the contemporary environment, the Afghan interest lies in the restoration of peace in the first instance, as a pre-requisite. The peace will lead towards political stability and economic progress. However, restoration of peace has become challenging one, as the international forces (NATO and US) are leaving the country, without stabilizing it and indeed, without clearing the mess, they have created over the last 13 years. Then, there are issues of capacity building in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Would ANSF be able to control theinternal insurgencies, particularly the Taliban resistance is questionable. Taliban may not be large in number but, their fear is a reality and then, they occupy some of the strategic locations, as their strong holds. President Ghani has already appealed the Taliban to negotiate with Government for the broader peace of Afghanistan. It is hoped that, Mr Ghani, a different personality then, the previous President, may attract the attention and good will of Taliban. In this process, President Ghani, would need Pakistani assistance too, therefore, a cooperative mechanism between Pakistan and Afghanistan equally essential. Otherwise, thousands of Afghan crosses over to Pakistan everyday for their jobs and earnings. In fact, Afghanistan and Pakistan are two countries with one society, a unique relationship. Both need to develop trust and forget the bumpy past relationship.
Subsequently, the element of political stability in Afghanistan is a major challenge for the new Afghan political setup, indeed a coalition partnership, through a power sharing formula, brokered by United States. The formula may work for the time being, but, indeed, both the President and the Chief Executive will have to show magnanimity and permissiveness, for the ultimate success of it. The past Afghan history is marred with failure of such type of transitional agreements. May be it was 1970s or after Soviet withdrawal in 1990s, the success rate of such arrangements have been very less.
Nevertheless, the political maturity of Abdullah Abdullah and accommodative approach of President Ashraf Ghani may reverse the history with a new beginning, one can wish for. Both are highly educated personalities and understand the national interests of their country particularly; the aspects of economy and diplomacy. In this case, the regional countries would be expected not to make any favorite, rather facilitate in the promotion of political stability in Afghanistan. In this regard, the past leaning of Abdullah Abdullah has been towards India and Iran, besides, some of the Central Asian countries and Russia. He may have to show detachment towards these players, otherwise, there would be a clash over the making of favorites in the regional politics, which may invite others, thus, pushing the country into chaos once again. President Ghani, though has less biases among the regional actors, expect China, but may be driven by the Karazai doctrine, and can be exploited by those, following the extended neighbourhood concept. A political maturity, thus needed for the continuity of current setup and incorporation of Taliban, the major resistance group into this political process, giving them due share.
Economically, Afghanistan needs lot of finances and global assistance. Its security forces need a lot of finances for their capacity building and economic incentives to be effective in the disturbed areas and to avoid the massive desertions. With the present state, ANSF may not be able to sustain for loner duration. The reconstruction of Afghan infrastructure and creation of job opportunities for over 65% youth is a big challenge for the new Government. The regional countries would have to provide massive support for the financial assistance for the Afghan reconstruction and in the creation of business opportunities. In this regard, the Chinese role is worth appreciating. It is ready to play a major role in the future Afghan development without becoming part of any group or a lager alliance at the global level. India, however, may covertly oppose the Chinese investment and exploration of minerals. India has made investment in Afghanistan for over $2 billion. This is mainly in the social sector, but is eying at playing major role in the security sector of Afghanistan; training of ANSF and its spying agency. Regional countries are apprehensive of Indian role in Afghanistan and through it into CARs. In the past, India made use of Afghan soil for creating instability against its western neighbor. Afghan leadership must be mindful of this aspect; otherwise, there would be a new clash of interests, which will harm the already war-torn Afghanistan. China is also under criticism by U.S and west for not playing its part in strengthening the security of Afghanistan, but reaping the economic benefits, through mining and economic investment, starting from 2012. Though U.S and west appreciated the Sino-Afghanistan cooperation, but this again is a reality that, China has not promised much to assist Afghanistan in the capacity building of ANSF, even during this visit. This may be because of Chinese strategy of not involving into the internal affairs of other countries or else, US presence in Afghanistan, which will continue even after 2014.
In order to bring peace, political stability and economic prosperity of Afghanistan, the new beginning of Sino-Afghan relation is a very welcoming step. Being an immediate neighbor, geographically contiguous and a neutral country in the region, China must play a part for the political stability and economic prosperity. Other regional countries must follow the Chinese model of supporting Afghanistan, rather using its soil against a third country and securing their economic or other interests. By following this new era of cooperation in China-AfghanistanRelations, the region in general will have peace and stability which will contribute towards its economic prosperity; a win-win situation for all. For Pakistan, peace and political stability in Afghanistan is extremely essential. A stable Afghanistan with peace within, will guarantee peace and stability in Pakistan. As a prologue, both Pakistan and Afghanistan must take measures for the restoration of mutual trust and leave aside the blame game of past.

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