China territory. Russia and China step up

ChinaBuilds Military Base in                          Afghanistan                                                      Peter KORZUN  The Afghan Badakhshan province bordersthe China’s province of Xinjiang.

It waspart of the ancient Silk Road linking theEast to the West. Today, the Silk Road is beingrevived and the China’s interestin the province is also on the rise. Afghanistanboasts large deposits of raw materials China could import.  Beijing is investing$55 billion in the neighboring Pakistan. It plans toconstruct an economic corridor stretching to the Arabian Sea. The project willspur the world economy and Afghanistan can benefit too.

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China is the Afghanistan’s largest trading partner and investor.   According toits “OneBelt, One Road” (OBOR) project, a big infrastructure is to bebuilt in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Stability in Afghanistan corresponds to China’sinterests but there is little hope the United States can bring it.  After all, it has not achieved anysubstantial gains since 2001. There have been surges and reductions, changes oftactics and strategy, numerous reports on how to change the tide of war but theTaliban is strong, the Afghan economy is in shambles with drugs traffickingbeing the only business to thrive. So far, the Trump administration has notpresented a long-awaited strategy defining its Afghanistan policy, despite thefact that there are at least 8400 American troops in the country.

This presencewill increase soon. The US relationships with pertinent actors, such asPakistan, are in shambles. Washington has recently suspended military aid to thatcountry.    The instability in Afghanistan threatens the China-Pakistan EconomicCorridor – an important element of OBOR. China is acting as a mediator to reconcilethe   differences between the countries of the region.The Afghanistan-Pakistan relations worsened in 2017 as they exchanged mutualaccusations of rendering support to jihadists operating in the border areas. Beijingis working hard  to improve the bilateralties.

It arranged a tripartitemeeting of foreign chiefs in 2017. The talks produced workingpanels to promote cooperation in various areas. Another meeting is  expected to take place thisyear in Kabul. TheEastTurkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighurnationalist and Islamic movement from China’s Xinjiang region, is operating in Afghanistan. The militants gaincombat experience fighting side by side with the Taliban and other militantgroups.

Beijing does not want the seasoned warriors to come back and engage interrorist activities on its territory.Russiaand China step up military aid to Central Asian states.  They believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) can substantially contribute into achieving peaceful settlement. Both aretrying to create a network of regional states. Moscow and Beijing are motivatedby their national interests, which coincide. As major powers they are workingtogether to promote security in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Alltold, the China’s interest is strong enough to justify military engagement beyondits borders. The Afghan government officials reportedthat China is tobuild a military base in Badakhshan.  The discussionson the location and further technicalities for the base areto start soon. The weapons and equipment will be Chinese butthe facility will be manned by Afghan military. No doubt, Chinese militaryinstructors and other personnel will come to carry out train and assistmissions.

It has been reported that the construction of the base is expected tobe complete in 2018. In2017, the Taliban delivered serious strikes temporarilycapturing Ishkashim and Zebak districts of Badakhshan from the government troops. TheAfghan government failed to provide the military presence substantial enough toensure security. Before the attacks, an agreement with local field commanders hadbeen in place, giving them their share of lapis lazuli production in exchange for cessationof hostilities. But internal bickering undermined the fragile peace between thelocal groups and the Taliban seized the opportunity to intervene. The IslamicState’s presence in the province is a matter of special concern.  It makes border security an issue ofparamount importance for Beijing. Thequestion is how far is China ready to go? Until now, it has limited itsmilitary activities to special operations teams patrolling the WakhanCorridor.

   A military base in Badakhshan is an importantmove to demonstrate   Beijing is ready to expand its presence in thecountry and become an alternative to the United States.  China has a trump card the US lacks – the cooperationof Russia and Pakistan. Beijing represents the SCO, a large internationalorganization comprising such actors as Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan and the countriesof Central Asia.  The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group’s activities were restarted last year upon the initiative of Russian president VladimirPutin. They were suspended in 2009.  Russiaadvocates launching direct talks between the Afghan Government andthe Taliban as soon as possible. Beijing supports the idea.

The two nations arein the same boat. Moscow has said it is ready to host aconference on Afghanistan.   TheSCO can make the crisis management process a real multilateral effort. It will reducethe clout of the US but increase chances for finding a settlement to theconflict.

. Security cooperation and diplomatic activities can open new chapterin the Afghan history.         


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