Afghanistan’s future should rest in the hands of its people. But there is no chance of that while its government controls little more than half of the country, and while the civil war with the formerly ruling Taliban and the foothold of the Islamic State extremist group cause so much suffering and instability. US President Donald Trump’s decision to maintain and even strengthen the American and foreign military presence instead of heeding his original instinct to turn his back on 16 years of American engagement makes sense. But the stability and development Afghans crave cannot come about through fighting alone; efforts like those of China to bring sides together to broker a lasting peace through dialogue also have to be given room. Trump made no mention of talks when announcing his strategy. He declared that the US was “not nation-building again; we are killing terrorists”. Pakistan was rebuked for harbouring extremists and its bitter rival, India, was encouraged to get involved. Although details were not given, officials have said the American troop strength will be increased by 4,000 to 12,500, far below the 100,000 peak that was the bulk of a total overseas force of 140,000. Suicide bomber kills 29 in attack on Shiite mosque in Afghanistan Repeated suicide bombings in Kabul and other major cities prove the Afghan army is still incapable of providing security, despite years of training and being given superior weapons. The foreign military presence has not significantly increased the government’s reach. With Afghanistan so central a part of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” trade development plan, Beijing has understandably stepped up its peace efforts through talks with Afghan officials, the US, Pakistan and the Taliban. Russia and Qatar are also making moves. State Councillor Yang Jiechi has reminded the US of China’s commitment to ensuring peace and reconciliation. The top Chinese diplomat told American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Beijing would help communication between the US and others involved in the conflict that Washington has poor relations with or refuses to talk to. Such a prompting is necessary; soldiers can bring about security, but there will be no lasting stability without the understanding and goodwill that mediation can provide.