China in Afghanistan


Bringing peace in Afghanistan is a challenge for many countries, especially those bordering Afghanistan. It is only the 76km Wakhan’s narrow strip that connects China with Afghanistan. The insurgents however, take advantage of this porous border to cross these countries to launch terrorist and separatist activities. They launched an attack in the South Western city of Kunming last week, killing at least 29 people and injuring about 140. China will work with the international community for political reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Although Beijing signed a strategic partnership agreement with Kabul last year, China does avoid geopolitics in its policy towards Afghanistan. Historically, China lacks knowledge in dealing with the complex political landscape of Afghanistan. It expressed the hope that the Afghanistan election held on 5 April would bring peace, stability, and reconciliation.

Chinese interests in Afghanistan are moved by economic, cultural, and ethnic necessities. China prefers to see a stable and prosperous Afghanistan by bringing an end to war and a conflict that would also destabilize western China. The country has serious concerns about its security in Xinjiang. Therefore, a stable Afghanistan is necessary for it. Pakistan’s military action against the Taliban should also address this issue of Xinxiang’s stability. There is a China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Forum in the private sector initiated by the Pakistan China Institute to address militancy, separatism, and terrorism. A collective regional approach between China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is needed to promote peace in the region as was discussed by scholars and government policy makers in a seminar organized by the Pakistan China Institute at Islamabad from the 19th-20th of October.

In China’s new Asian fusion policy, Afghanistan significantly matters. Afghanistan is just in the centre of China’s Silk Route Economic Belt policy. China has been in the process of economic diplomacy towards Afghanistan, preparing for mineral developments. Since 2001, China provided assistance worth US$ 250 million to the Afghan Government.

To promote trade, both countries signed a bilateral economic cooperation agreement in 2006. China is one of the major trading partners for Afghanistan, and Pakistan could offer an attractive route to Afghanistan for its exports and imports from China through the Karakorum Highway.

Beijing recently offered US $1.6 million in humanitarian aid to Kabul in controlling landslide damages. China has a US $700 million agreement to drill for oil in the Amu Darya Basin in Sar-e Pul and Faryab provinces and a US $3 billion deal to develop the Aynak copper mining project worth trillion of dollars. Owing to insecurity in Afghanistan, no significant Chinese direct investment has gone through. China uses the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to tackle most of its issues with Afghanistan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a visit to Kabul in February to discuss the future of the China-Afghanistan bilateral relationship. India has been building a massive presence in Afghanistan before the US exit by the end this year. India has been providing military hardware to Afghanistan and train the Afghan National Army. For Pakistan, this is a disturbing development. It might also create more concerns for China.

Many experts speculate turmoil and eventual civil war in Afghanistan after December. Countries have been devising their policies around these parameters especially India. Pakistan would be toeing a neutral and non-interference policy towards the internal situation in Afghanistan. China does not believe in military involvement as a solution to the myriad Afghan problems, and instead pursues economic and diplomatic cooperation. India would likely to be fully involved. It is in China’s best interests in Afghanistan that it seeks urgent and diplomatic cooperation with both Pakistan and India to alleviate its concerns.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.