China has been emerging as a major power bringing peace between Pakistan & Afghanistan. This matters significantly; as worrying nations could defuse mutual tension. China’s relation with Pakistan are most pleasant, they have discussed new changes in Afghanistan.

Photo: U.S. troops walk outside their base in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, on July 7.

As US plans to withdraw all of its 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, after seventeen long years of war with loss of more than 2,200 American lives & 20,000 soldiers wounded, with countless Afghan & Pakistani men, women & children who have suffered. Moves are afoot there to work out a compromise, but the US government has no understanding of how the present moves will change the diplomatic contours of Southwest Asia, as major actor in this arc of instability and conflict, US is now turning to regional powers for help in pulling its chestnuts out of the fire.

President Trump, not realising the sensitivities of the situation, he went on the warpath against Pakistan soon after he entered the White House in 2017. Having decided that Pakistan was the real culprit  ‘the wrong enemy’ (to quote Richard Holbrooke, former US Special Representative to Afghanistan & Pakistan) working against American interests in Afghanistan.

Initially, Trump’s offensive consisted of a war of words & tweets designed to sideline Pakistan, by accusing that nation’s leaders of engaging in ‘deceit and lies.’ followed by a halt to the $1.3 billion worth of military aid that US had been supplying each year to Pakistan, a key actor in the region & a purported ally on which the Pentagon has relied for access to the theatre of war in landlocked Afghanistan.

Photo: The Mujahideen were the fighters united against the Soviet & backed Afghan forces, through guerrilla warfare, backed by the Pakistan ISI.

Islamabad has been Washington’s key partner in the ‘war on terror’ since the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979, after which Pakistan provided its northwestern neighbour with a vital overland transit route through the port city of Karachi. President Trump proceeded to adopt a mixed policy toward the Afghan conflict that has left him blowing hot and cold. He assigned his top diplomat, American negotiator of Afghan origin, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been talking to the Taliban since August 2018.

The Taliban want all foreign forces to be pulled out of Afghanistan before they talk to the present rulers in Kabul. For Kabul, the dilemma will be how to counter his rivals without American support. Moreover, Kabul’s relations with Islamabad have, historically, never been cordial.

China’s Concern

The war-torn Afghanistan has become increasingly important for China’s own security, as well as The Belt & Road Initiative, a huge trade and infrastructure plan. BRI would be incomplete without fully incorporating Afghanistan.

China’s Strategy

China has been using its influence to make a change inside Afghanistan, the purpose is to create friendship between Pakistan & Afghanistan. A meeting in Beijing, between Chinese State Councillor & Foreign Minister Wang Yi & Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had a “deep discussion about new changes to the situation in Afghanistan and reached a consensus.

¨Pakistan &  China believe that military means cannot resolve the Afghanistan issue, and promoting political reconciliation is the only realistic way¨

Wang Yi visited Kabul earlier in the month of December, where he pledged to help Afghanistan & Pakistan overcome their long-standing suspicions of each other. The recent China-Pakistan-Afghanistan dialogue in Kabul was the most significant peace process held in years. China’s main concern in Afghanistan is the situation in Uighur dominated Xinjiang region where there is Afghan influence and that must be mitigated. China has to see how to look after Afghanistan post – US withdrawal.

Photo: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi sign MOU on Cooperation in Fighting Terrorism. December 15, 2018, Kabul – Afghanistan

Beijing approves of greater cooperation on security and is willing to provide support and help to both Pakistan & Afghanistan to improve ties. The long-standing suspicion between Pakistan & Afghanistan can also be resolved by China, which US has failed to do so far. China has better options inside Afghanistan than any other country. China is helping Afghanistan to set up a mountain brigade in the country’s north to boost counter-terrorism efforts but ‘there will be no Chinese military personnel of any kind on Afghan soil at any time’. Embassy of China in Afghanistan said the Afghan government appreciated China’s assistance and that the countries’ militaries were working in close coordination, without giving further details.

Not only China but the United States also acknowledges Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. For Beijing, tranquility in Afghanistan is essential to bring peace inside Afghanistan and help implement Beijing’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is an important part of the Puzzle for Beijing.