China can help bring peace to Afghanistan
Beijing knows brokering peace will be a gradual process that first involves tackling easier, smaller projects. Where other mediators have failed, China offers a chance of success
China would seem well placed to break the logjam in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Chinese, Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers made that plain during their first meeting hosted by Beijing to mediate an end to hostilities. Having earned the trust of the Taliban, China’s diplomats could also potentially broker peace between the fundamentalist Muslim group and Kabul, ending the Afghan civil war. China’s vision of cooperation and development and new-found confidence on the world stage could be the right formula for conflict resolution.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of providing a safe haven for Taliban militants trying to overthrow its government in Kabul.
Successive rounds of quadrilateral talks that also include the United States have failed to make progress on an Afghan peace deal and the process has lost momentum since Donald Trump became the American leader.
President Xi Jinping has been presenting Beijing as a viable alternative to Washington when it comes to mediation and the trilateral talks followed on the heels of a symposium with Israeli and Palestinian peace advocates in the Chinese capital on December 20 and 21.
Such efforts are also about mutual benefits; in the Afghanistan case, it is about securing and extending the US$57 billion China-Pakistan economic corridor, a massive transport and logistics project that is a crucial element of Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.
Good progress towards that aim was made in Beijing, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterparts agreeing to work together on building political trust, reconciliation, development, connectivity, security and counterterrorism.
Calling on the Taliban to join them, they agreed “a broad-based and inclusive peace and reconciliation process” was the most viable solution to bring peace to Afghanistan.
That is a far cry from the approach adopted by Trump, which centres on maintaining and perhaps even increasing US troop numbers in the troubled country and avoids political and diplomatic initiatives.
It makes sense that China should take a lead role. The nation is the only neutral power neighbouring Afghanistan and it has no historical baggage.
The belt and road plan is reason alone to push for stability, but Beijing also wants to stop the cross-border movement of Muslim extremists to and from its autonomous region of Xinjiang.
There are risks; a Chinese couple were abducted and murdered by suspected Islamic State loyalists in Pakistan in June and China’s embassy in Kabul was partly damaged in a Taliban attack on the city’s diplomatic zone in May.
Beijing knows brokering peace will be a gradual process that first involves tackling easier, smaller projects. Where other mediators have failed, China offers a chance of success.