June 20 2021
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Previous story China desires to strengthen the road to Afghanistan for security as US withdraws 3000 troops Next story


After China-Afghanistan-Pakistan video conference foreign minister says Afghans face uncertainty but also opportunity to ‘truly control their own destiny’ Risks for Beijing include a lack of cultural understanding in the region and potential accusation of creating a ‘debt trap’ for Kabul, says professor
Published on June 4, 2021 9:44 AM

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On May 5, Afghan security forces stand near an armoured vehicle during fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand province. Photo: AFP
On June 3, China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted the fourth trilateral dialogue via video link with Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

At the end of the meeting, the three foreign ministers reached an eight-point consensus under which they will push forward the peace and reconciliation process, strengthen relations, expand economic and trade exchanges, cooperate on the Belt and Road Initiative as well as healthcare and education, fight the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthen counter-terrorism and security cooperation, and deepen the trilateral foreign ministers' dialogue mechanism.

China wishes to greatly increase projects to Afghanistan and strengthen communication within the region. This is seen as an apparent effort to raise its influence after the US withdraws its troops from the country.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that as the withdrawal of US troops might bring uncertainties regarding security, it gave the Afghan people an opportunity to "truly control their own destiny" and was good for the country's long-term stability, according to China's official readout.

"The three sides agreed to deepen the cooperation in BRI, supporting the substantial expansion of it to Afghanistan, and enhance the level of interconnection between the three countries," Wang said.

The US is expected to pull the last 3,000 troops out of Afghanistan by September after 20 years in the region. Beijing fears the withdrawal will lead to more terrorism in the country with security risks to the Muslim Xinjiang around Afghanistan.

The apparent objective of the United States in Afghanistan has been to reduce the threat of terrorism against the United States and its allies. That goal was accomplished ten years ago: Al-Qaida's capabilities are a fraction of what they used to be. The Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK) continues to operate in Afghanistan, but the Taliban has been fighting ISK assiduously. However, perpetually bad governance in Afghanistan has undermined stability and allowed the Taliban to entrench itself. While the Taliban too is implicated in many illicit economies, it is often seen as less predatory and capricious, even if brutal and restrictive, than powerbrokers associated with the Afghan government.

The Biden administration feels that the threat of terrorism from Afghanistan today is in fact smaller than Africa and the Middle East. In Somalia, al-Shabab's territorial and governing power are steadily increasing and the group retains a strong allegiance to al-Qaida. The Islamic State (ISIS) in Somalia, while much weaker than al-Shabab, retains persistent capacity. Various al-Qaida and ISIS affiliates robustly operate in Mali and other parts of the Sahel and North Africa. Thus, even though the Taliban is unwilling to sever its connections with al-Qaida, that threat is not radically different from the terrorist threats against the United States and our allies emanating from other locales. Though hopefully the U.S.-Taliban Doha agreement from February 2020 will incentivize the Taliban to prevent al-Qaida from taking actions against the United States and its allies from Afghanistan, and ongoing U.S. policy should be geared toward this objectives through diplomacy, conditional aid and sanctions, and, even, possibly occasional strikes from off-shore.

China seeks to strengthen cooperation with Central Asian states on security to manage any potential spillover of turmoil from Afghanistan. During a meeting with the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan last month, Beijing said they should jointly crack down on terrorists and prevent transnational crime. Last month, Beijing also offered to host talks in China for parties in Afghanistan during a call with Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib.

"We can expand China-Pakistan Economic Corridor cooperation to Afghanistan and improve the level of trade cooperation and interconnection between Afghanistan and other countries in the region," Wang said.