China’s emerging role of mediator in Afghanistan

Kabul – Recent years witnessed the ever-increasing role of china across various sectors like economy, military and environment etc. China is on way to transfer the world economy by using the leverage of size of its economy. President Xi’s concept of shared prosperity is taking ground and spreading, even in the realm of existing liberal world order.

Belt and Route Initiative has become the signature policy initiative of President Xi. President himself has taken lead to preach the importance and benefits of BRI and is traveling across the world to expand it. He has assumed the status of “Chief Diplomat” of China. Government under the leadership of Prime Minister is not leaving any stone un-turn to make BRI as success story for 21st century, according to vision of President.

China has launched many programs and projects under the umbrella of BRI. Some of the projects are facing difficulties due to regional power and political games. One of the prominent examples is China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) including Bangladesh China Myanmar and India (BCMI) and some initiatives in Africa. CPEC being the flagship project of BRI is love of every critic and politics. Regional and Global players are trying to make their efforts to turn it into a controversial by applying different instruments. However, the favorite tool is to capitalize on the existing fault lines.

Afghanistan issue is one of such fault lines in South Asia. Afghanistan is suffering from conflicts for almost four decades. War has become permanent fixture and it is impacting society at all levels. Food insecurity is increasing. Poverty levels are out of control. Climate change is another factor which posing serious threats to nation. Future scenarios of climate change present a gloomy picture for Afghanistan. List of problems for Afghanistan is very long.

Unfortunately, list of opportunity is not long enough. It presents only few opportunities. Although Western countries led by USA have invested a lot in security but economic investment does not corresponds to security investment. USA along with its allies is trying to fulfill the budgetary requirements but somehow is hesitant to invest in real time economic activities. Industrial development has been one of the most neglected areas along others sectors of economy.

Afghanistan is not able to create economic opportunities for its people. Therefore, Afghanistan is not able to create economic opportunities for its people. People are looking jobs for ensuring livelihoods for their families. They need decent jobs and earnings for investing in education, health and good living. Unfortunately opportunities are very scarce due to lack of investment in industry and other economic fields.

In this backdrop CPEC emerged as one of the opportunity for Afghanistan to benefit from it. CPEC is a multidimensional opportunity. Pakistan, from very inception of CPEC is looking to extend it to Afghanistan and other Central Asian States. However, its potential can never be exploited in Afghanistan without peace especially for private sector. Governments can take risk to invest in conflict-hit areas but private business community mostly remains hesitant.

China and Pakistan understands this fact very well. Therefore, during the last few years both governments started to look for avenues for promoting and sustaining peace in Afghanistan. China is only country which dared to invest in economy of Afghanistan despite all the hurdles and risk for investment in the last few years.

During the past few years China also emerged as one of the most proponent of peace in Afghanistan by engaging all stakeholders. Heart of Asia, Trilateral Dialogue among Pakistan, China, and Afghan Government are two major interventions along with others. Heart of Asia is more comprehensive initiatives and involves many countries to expand the benefits of peace and security. China is trying to play a role, which can bring peace and sustainable economic development in Afghanistan.

Tri-lateral dialogue is another initiative to directly engage with two most important stakeholders, Pakistan and Afghanistan. China is in a unique position as both countries trust China and for its role. First meeting was dedicated to understand the standing of each country and possible interventions. Second meeting will be organized soon.

Question is, whether China will be in a position to change the course of actions in the context of Afghanistan. Many big players like USA, UK, NATO and other countries are already there and they have invested trillions of dollars in fight against terrorism. Every actor has its own objectives to achieve apart from the requirements of Afghanistan. Despite this huge investment still they are struggling to secure peace and according to BBC report, Taliban are governing almost 60-70 percent of Afghanistan. In this scenario there are many “Ifs and Buts” for China to concentrate.

However, neutral and objective oriented approach would be crucial to determine the future of any intervention. China has to identify the less controversial areas to start the process of mediation among all stakeholders. There are many areas, which qualify for that category but important ones are food security, poverty alleviation, education, health and environment and climate change protection.

Poverty levels in Afghanistan are very high. It is estimated that 42 percent population lives below the poverty line and another 20 percent lives marginally above the poverty line. It means this 20 percent population is highly vulnerable to any shock. Situation becomes more aggravated in the context that livelihood opportunities are very limited. Food insecurity is another area of concern. Majority of population have to depend on the imported food, which is beyond the purchasing power of people. Indicators of health and education are also not in good shape.

Although China is working on these issues from different forums like Heart of Asia and group has created good number of CBMs to cater needs of Afghanistan. However, may be China has to change gear here. It needs to involve more directly and brings in new programs. Good thing is that China has already started this process. It has now nominated a special envoy for Afghanistan and trying to help Afghanistan in number of fields. It has started to invest in country and provide support for capacity building for soft and hard infrastructure. It is helping China to build its image as constructive partner.

Second important step would be to engage most important and direct stakeholders for peace deal. China is working on it for many years but with limited success. Now China has changed the gear and directly trying to bring most important stakeholders to the table. It has taken initiative to start a tri-lateral among Afghanistan, China and Pakistan to look for ways for durable peace and prosperity. Pakistan and Afghanistan started to realize the importance of this initiative and both countries are cooperating with China to steer the process for meaningful outcome.

China is also trying to take into confidence other players in regions and beyond including USA, India and others. The fundamental difference of China’s role as mediator from other countries is that it does not want to beat the drum of its role. It is silently working to achieve the objectives rather than creating noise about its role. We have already witnessed success of this strategy in the case of North Korea and USA conflict. It silently supported the process and helped both countries to break a deal. Same results we can expect in the case of Afghanistan.

"Monitoring Desk"

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