Chinese mediation in the Afghan-Pak relations


A trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China was held in Beijing on 26 December 2017. The Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Sallahuddin Rabbani, the Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Khawaja Mohammad Asif and the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi had participated in this gathering. This meeting was highly welcomed in the region, particularly by the media.

This meeting is organized at a time that tensions in Kabul-Islamabad relations have escalated the Pakistan-China economic zone is moving towards implementation, and insecurity in Afghanistan is increasing on a daily basis.

The trilateral meetings between the three countries have started since several years ago. However, at first, these meetings were between the think tanks of these countries, then the deputy foreign ministers of these countries met and now for the first time bthe foreign ministers of the three countries are meeting.

The question is how is the Chinese mediation seen in this issue and what will be the impact of China’s this role? 


The need for Chinese mediation

Currently, due the following points, the Chinese mediation in Kabul-Islamabad ties is necessary:

First; since the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG), the Chinese-Afghan relations have been prospering compared to the past. In his first foreign trip, President Ghani left for China and valued this country’s role in the Afghan peace issue. During this time, officials of both countries frequently visited each other’s countries and Chinese aids to Afghanistan increased and then China started military contributions as well.

Second; compared to the first year of the NUG, the Pak-Afghan relations have now become more tenuous. However, this deterioration of relations between the two countries is not an issue of the NUG’s period and the Kabul-Islamabad relations have experienced ups and downs since the formation of Pakistan.

Third; China has strategic relations with Pakistan since the past six decades and the Chinese see Pakistan as their “Israel”. [1] On the other hand, not only China have good relations with the Afghan government but also Afghans have good feelings for Chinese role.


Why Kabul wants Beijing’s mediation?

Kabul values these trilateral meetings because considering China’s position in the region, Kabul is convinced that such meetings will have an impact on its security. The fact that China wants good Kabul-Islamabad relations for the security of its two projects, the Silk Road and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Projects, Kabul’s hopes increase. Beijing has offered mediation between Kabul and Islamabad since the past several months as the Chinese said in the trilateral meeting: “Both parties [Pakistan and Afghanistan] wowed to improve mutual relations between them and promised not to allow anyone to use the soil of one against the other.”

An important point here is that China emphasized on Afghanistan’s integration in the CPEC project more than Pakistan. In this regard, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs said that Beijing and Islamabad think about how to make Afghanistan part of CPEC. Therefore, Afghanistan sees China’s mediation not from a political prospect but also from an economic and security angle.

Kabul sees China’s mediation with optimism also because this country can play an important role in the Afghan government’s reconciliation with the Taliban. Although the Afghan Taliban have rejected China’s mediation in the peace process, still there are hopes of Beijing playing such a role. Beijing also uses the term “facilitator” rather than mediator regarding itself and that is why China called on the Afghan Taliban in the recent meeting to sit around a table with the Afghan government.


Beijing’s mediation and regional politics

China’s mediation between Pakistan and Afghanistan and also between the Taliban and the Afghan government also triggers some regional rivalries. For instance, the US will not be concerned to a large scale about China’s mediation between Pakistan and Afghanistan; however, when it comes to the mediation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, this is an issue of concern for the Americans and, in this regard, China will move carefully as well.

On the other hand, Pakistanis favors China’s increasing role in Afghanistan because this is the only way, in their belief, to reduce India’s role in this country. However, if China made peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban and if this happens with the marginalization of Pakistan and without the consent of this country, it will never be acceptable for Pakistan. Nevertheless, the probability of China playing such a role is scarce and it will be rather hard for China to play such a role.

India, on the other hand, will be one of the countries that will closely monitor the recent events because this country has invested its role in Afghanistan since 2001. Although among the four players (Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the Taliban), India is concerned about the increase in role of the three in Afghanistan, India is not “hasty” because its security interests are mostly inline with that of the Afghan government.

The End

[1] Andrew Small, a British writer, has quoted this point from a Chines diplomat  in his book “The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics”.

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