Aid by China and India to Afghanistan on the security and development front will help achieve self-reliance by the latter. This will also stabilise the region.
This writer was recently invited to a track 1.5 China-Afghanistan-Pakistan symposium on ‘Tackling Terrorist Threats, Jointly Safeguarding Regional Security’ in Beijing. The rare trilateral symposium was welcomed by the three sides as a good opportunity to exchange views and to offer tangible, policy and operational solutions for the consideration of their respective Governments to help them jointly address the intertwined threats of terrorism, extremism, and criminality in the region.
Our discussions were so constructive on the seminal role, which major regional stakeholders can play to stabilise Afghanistan, that the absence of an Indian delegation was needfully felt around the table.
Afghanistan considers China and India to be their traditional friends and trustworthy neighbours — ones that have increasingly proven to share their wisdom and wealth with others — who need them the most. The trilateral dialogue was a manifestation of China’s ongoing efforts to build confidence, friendship, and consensus among its neighbours for the pursuit of win-win goals against an entrenched zero-sum mentality towards a shared future of sustainable peace, security, and stability throughout the region.
Over the past 17 years, we have learned from international security cooperation in Afghanistan that without sincere, results-driven regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism with no distinction, it would be hard to secure peace in Afghanistan. Indeed, a collective failure to defeat terrorism and to win peace in the country would consequently entail adverse spillover effects, which could easily transcend borders, destabilising the region and the world at large.
But this shouldn’t be allowed to happen: China and India can help identify the challenges that confront regional stability and global peace, work with Afghanistan and other regional and international stakeholders, to cease many existing opportunities to address them together.
First, however, it is imperative to assess the security threats facing the region and the world at large and to reach at a common understanding of their nature for joint, coordinated action to tackle them. From the Afghan perspective, the security threats that contribute to increased instability in the region also extend to the rest of the world because they emanate from a dangerous nexus of violent extremism by transnational terrorist networks (TTNs), organised crime by transnational criminal networks (TCNs), as well as state sponsorship of terrorism.
Indeed, the symbiotic relationships among these lethal networks of terror and crime involve mutual benefits in the form of such facilities and capabilities as protection, logistics, financing, training, arms, intelligence, and safe havens. In the Afghan case, these enable the Taliban and the Haqqani Network to destabilise Afghanistan. And the ensuing regional instability has provided an enabling, operational environment for such terrorist networks as Al Qaeda, Daesh-ISK, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and others to launch targeted terrorist attacks in the region and beyond.
In this light, what can China and India do more to help ensure regional stability and secure the peace in Afghanistan? A relevant response to this question was articulated by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)Summit in Qingdao. The President said, “We need to actively implement the 2019-2021 programme of cooperation for combating ‘three evil forces of terrorism, separatism, and extremism;’ continue to conduct the ‘Peace Mission’ and other joint counter-terrorism exercises…We need to give full play to the role of SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to facilitate peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan.”
President Xi added that “Countries are increasingly interdependent today… confronted with many common threats and challenges that no one can tackle alone. Only by enhancing solidarity and partnership, will we be able to achieve lasting stability and development.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed the summit as the newly admitted member-state of SCO, echoed his Chinese counterpart, floating the concept of SECURE to underpin the work of SCO: ‘S’ for security for citizens, ‘E’ for economic development, ‘C’ for connectivity in the region, ‘U’ for unity, ‘R’ for respect of sovereignty, ‘E’ for environment protection. He highlighted instability in Afghanistan as an “unfortunate effect of terrorism,” noting: “I hope the brave steps towards peace taken by President Ghani will be respected by all in the region.”
Bilaterally, as their trusted neighbors and traditional friends, Afghans expect China and India to support the implementation of Afghanistan’s mutually reinforcing peace and counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics strategies, while investing in the natural resources sector and connectivity infrastructure of Afghanistan. This combined security and development aid approach by China and India will go a long way in enabling Afghanistan to achieve self-reliance, in accordance with Afghanistan’s National Peace and Development Framework (NPDF) goals. Success in this endeavor will help China and India achieve their own goals of helping stabilise their surrounding region for increased “physical and digital connectivity.”
Moreover, since the security problems in Afghanistan are regionally rooted, China and India can do more to work bilaterally with each other and with Russia, Iran, and Pakistan to help stabilise and develop Afghanistan. In this connection, Afghans welcomed the Informal summit between President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan last April when the two leaders agreed to cooperate in Afghanistan, co-implementing economic projects that can boost economic growth and strengthen human security in Afghanistan.
Needless to point out, the China-India joint stabilisation and development efforts will have achieved their shared longer-term goal of increased connectivity across the new and old Silk Roads, the heart of which is Afghanistan.
Trilaterally, China can do more to use its good ties and leverage with Pakistan to encourage the incoming Government in Islamabad to deliver tangible results on the peace and security progress, which Afghanistan and Pakistan have so far made “on the paper.” For example, the trilateral Afghanistan-China-Pakistan foreign ministerial meetings can serve as an effective mechanism to enable Afghanistan and Pakistan to make tangible progress on the key goals of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS): On the part of Pakistan to help ensure a significant reduction in violence by the Taliban across Afghanistan and to persuade the Taliban leadership to initiate or respond positively to a substantive ceasefire that enables results-driven peace talks for a durable negotiated political settlement.
Multilaterally, China and India have a major opportunity to exercise fully their global leadership potentials by effectively engaging with the member-states of the SCO and the NATO to help translate the emerging regional and international consensus for peace in Afghanistan to end the imposed war there.
In the Shanghai Spirit, China and India can work with other SCO member-states to facilitate and expedite Afghanistan’s full SCO membership, following the recent full admissions of India and Pakistan into the SCO. At the same time, China and India can help fully operationalise the Afghanistan-SCO Contact Group to support the Afghan-led peace process and to provide long-term resources for the sustainable development of Afghanistan with a focus on full-spectrum connectivity for regional peace and prosperity.
Writer: Ashraf Haidari
Courtesy: The Pioneer