Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani wise to seek support from China
Afghanistan, on the verge of standing on its own feet after 13 years of foreign military occupation, needs all the friends it can get. President Ashraf Ghani wisely chose neighbouring China for his first overseas trip since being inaugurated and the welcoming hand and pledges of help he gained are exactly what his strife-torn nation requires. The package of economic assistance, investment and aid offer hope of peace and stability. Such a partnership is crucial for meeting domestic challenges as well as ensuring regional security.
Billions of dollars in support was pledged during Ghani's four-day trip, which culminated in a fourth round of the Istanbul Process, a regional forum to encourage cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours. Participants endorsed support for 64 economic, infrastructure and education projects, two days after President Xi Jinping announced China would give 1.5 billion yuan (HK$1.9 billion) in aid through 2017 and help train 3,000 Afghan professionals over the next five years. Investment, construction and commercial interaction, particularly in the largely untapped mining sector, will help build an economic foundation. Xi's vision for a Silk Road belt that integrates the region could be a crucial element of revitalising the economy.
The challenges for Afghanistan are immense. Wrangling over the results of July's election ended only in September with Ghani reaching a power-sharing deal with his fierce rival, Abdullah Abdullah. But the political environment and security remain fragile and the influence of warlords is strong. Ghani has made restructuring the economy a priority, although rampant corruption makes that difficult. A third test lies in the withdrawal of most Nato troops at the end of the year; there are concerns that Afghan forces are not sufficiently well trained to be able to hold back ever-threatening Taliban insurgents.
China and the world are closely watching the economic, political and security transitions. Beijing has a particular interest - Afghanistan's fate impacts stability and security in Xinjiang , where Muslim extremism has left hundreds dead this year. A failed state on China's western doorstep would be disastrous, providing a breeding ground for terrorists. But Beijing has no interest in replacing departing Western troops and will instead focus on economic support to build stability. Ghani's turning first to China and the deals struck are a good start for Afghanistan.