Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid an official visit to Afghanistan last Saturday, the first ever since the country’s American invasion. The visit comes at a time when the war-ravaged country needs its neighbours to play a positive role in maintaining peace, supporting smooth elections and stability in the region.
The foreign minister, flanked by his Afghan counterpart Zarar Ahmad Osmani, told a news conference in Kabul on February 24 that Beijing is ready to play a constructive role in Afghanistan to achieve political reconciliation and economic revival, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.
Yi also promised that his country will continue to provide training and assistance to Afghan security forces, which will be solely responsible for securing the country after foreign forces leave this year. Osmani reiterated that Afghanistan will never allow its territory to be used by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for activities detrimental to China’s security and pledged continued efforts to deepen security cooperation with China.
Since late 2001, China has kept a low profile in Afghanistan, preferring instead to focus on its economic relationship, especially unexploited mineral resources. China has also promoted Afghanistan as an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a sign of goodwill.
China’s role in Afghanistan is seen as neutral as the Taliban have never fostered any hostility with their northeastern neighbour, which does not have any military or strategic ambitions for the country. Its sole concern is ensuring the country does not serve as an ETIM base to foment trouble in its Muslim majority Xinjiang province.
Pakistan Senate Defence Committee Chairman Mushahid Hussain recalls a meeting between Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and then Chinese ambassador in Islamabad, Lu Shulin, in Kandahar in December 2000.
“Mullah Omar conveyed to the Chinese ambassador the Taliban government will ensure that Afghan territory is not used for any destabilisation in China,” Mushahid, who also heads the Pakistan-China Institute, informed participants of a seminar in Islamabad recently.
As the withdrawal of Nato troops draws closer, China may well be the only country whose support Afghans welcome as it has had no negative involvement in the country.
Pakistan also wants a bigger role for China in Afghanistan and National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz reiterated Islamabad’s commitment at a seminar in Islamabad this month.
Emphasising China’s role in Afghanistan, Aziz had stated: “We should push all regional countries to allow Afghanistan to solve its problems on its own. I am sure they will find a solution when we leave them alone.”
President Hamid Karzai travelled to China a few times and attended international conferences in a bid to ensure smooth relations with the country.
During Karzai’s visit to China in 2012, the two countries established a strategic cooperation partnership and China provided aid for peaceful reconstruction efforts in the war-battered country. The partnership would help China play a larger role in Afghanistan.
Karzai, who now has little over a month left in power, has always referred to China as Afghanistan’s “very important and very wise neighbour”. He has also admitted at an occasion that China has “contributed significantly and in a quiet way to the peace process in Afghanistan.”
As far as regional games go, China’s interest in Afghanistan and its larger role in the region is believed to be behind American insistence on signing the bilateral security arrangement with Afghanistan which will allow US presence in the country post-2014 to contain China, among other neighbours.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2014.