With the prospect of regional rivalries intensifying over Afghanistan, China is thinking of proposing a trilateral dialogue among New Delhi, Beijing and Islamabad on Afghanistan, a tricky proposition given the rivalry between India and Pakistan in the Afghan theatre.
“Many Chinese scholars have proposed the idea. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China is keen on this trilateral dialogue,” says Zhang Jiadong, assistant director of the Centre for American Studies in Fudan University and a well regarded Chinese expert on international affairs.
With the 2014 drawdown of US-led international combat troops from Afghanistan in mind, China is pushing for greater regional cooperation to stabilize Afghanistan, an approach India has always supported.
Zhang said although China’s involvement in Afghanistan is now limited, it is planning to expand its diplomatic and economic footprint in the country.
“We are going to become more proactive in Afghanistan. Some Chinese scholars are suggesting a bigger role for China in Afghanistan,” Zhang, who is visiting India, said.
Compared to India pledging $2 billion for multifarious reconstruction activities in Afghanistan ranging from building hospitals, roads and schools to the parliament building, China’s involvement in Afghanistan has remained primarily economic. Chinese state-owned companies have invested in copper mines and struck a lucrative energy deal in Afghanistan. But with the growing stakes in the Afghan endgame, this is set to change.
But what should gladden New Delhi is China’s positive view of India’s reconstruction activities in Afghanistan. “There is a difference of perception between China and Pakistan on this,” said Zhang.
China recognises India as a key player in shaping Afghanistan in 2014, said Shen Xiaochen of Lanzhou University. In the post-2014 scenario, Shen said, China is sceptical of continued international assistance for Afghanistan. He stressed that against this backdrop, there should be greater cooperation between India and China for the stability of the violence-torn country.
Zhang, however, replied vaguely when asked how the dialogue among India, China and Pakistan will play out given the deep suspicion Islamabad has about New Delhi’s multifarious activities in that country which the Pakistani military establishment tends to regard as its strategic depth.
China’s all-weather friendship with Pakistan and the incestuous military ties between the two countries is going to be another complicating factor if such a trilateral dialogue were to see the light of the day.
The rivalry between India and Pakistan over influence in Afghanistan is well-known and it is going to only intensify in the wake of the phased withdrawal of US-led multinational ISAF forces by 2014.
India fears a Taliban takeover as it will mean the installation of a hostile regime in Kabul which will be remote-controlled by Pakistan’s ISI-military establishment. China fears that a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan may give sanctuary to the separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, led by ethnic Uighurs, and impinge on the stability of its border regions in Xinjiang.
With Afghan stability in mind and its larger ambitions in the region, China, said Zhang, is trying to pursue a balancing act between its relations with India and Pakistan. “Economically, we have closer ties with Pakistan. Militarily, we are closer to Pakistan. But we want stronger relations with both the countries,” he said.
While the prospects of a trilateral among India, Pakistan and China on Afghanistan look remote and problematic for now, consultations between New Delhi and Beijing on Afghanistan-Pakistan issues have already started.
“There are good prospects of cooperation between India and China on Afghanistan. The dialogue has already begun,” says Srikanth Kondapallui, a China expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Besides the threat from Taliban-associated militant networks in the region, what promises to bring India and China closer on Afghanistan is a shared investment-driven approach towards stabilising the violence-torn country.
New Delhi hosted a regional investors’ conclave on Afghanistan in April which was also attended by some Chinese companies.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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