Is Extended Chinese Involvement in Pak-Afghan Interests?
In Pakistan, often an argument in favour of extended Chinese involvement in Afghanistan is proffered on the pretext that any such development would be in our strategic interests in the region. Presumably, greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan is reckoned as a rational to offset negative US presence that consistently advances Indian interests. Here, it is assumed that Pakistan and China will have convergence of interests in Afghanistan, an idea that is quite frequently subscribed to the Pakistanis. A dispassionate argument has been made in the ensuring paragraphs to assess Chinese interests in Afghanistan and concerns and aspects where convergence as well as divergence of opinion with Pakistan can transpire.
China’s policy on Afghanistan is largely driven with its overall strategy towards Pakistan and South Asia; Central Asia; domestic counterterrorism issues; the acquisition of foreign goods, energy, and mineral resources; and bilateral relations with the United States. The most perceptible and significant Chinese interests in Afghanistan may include: Firstly, China does not want its Afghanistan policies to strain the long-standing as well as privileged relationship with Islamabad, undermine the stability of the Pakistani state, or harm Pakistan’s national interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan. Secondly, Beijing does not want the Afghan dynamics to threaten its larger efforts towards sustainable cooperation with other regional states. Thirdly, China is wary of the spillover of Islamic militancy from Afghanistan to Xinjiang / Uygur region, narcotics trafficking, and other transnational criminal activities. Fourthly, Beijing remains concerned with the prospects of a continued, long-term and sizeable US political, economic, and military presence in Afghanistan. At the same time, China does not want the US led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to fail against the Islamic radicalization of the region. Fifthly, Beijing has growing economic interests in Afghanistan, including a $3.5 billion project for the development of the Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, Eastern Afghanistan and $ 300 million worth oil exploration in Amu River Basin of Northern Afghanistan.
The aspects where Pak-China convergence of views on Afghanistan is expected, and can be beneficial to our interests, include: (One) like Pakistan, China does not regard military instrument as the appropriate stratagem of resolving Afghan imbroglio. (Two), China has convergence of opinion with Pakistan on the issue of a broad based, all inclusive, neutral and stable government in Afghanistan.(Three) There is convergence of opinion between Pakistan and China on the need of an enhanced role of United Nations in Afghanistan.(Four) Pakistan and China both view extended and prolonged presence of US / NATO in Afghanistan with concern.(Five) The commonality of views exists between both the countries on the issue of the expansion of militancy / extremism in the region and how detrimental it is for Pakistan and China.(Six) Both the countries recognize the great economic potential of Afghanistan and fervently aspire to exploit the prospects. (Seven) There is a disquieting consensus between Pakistan and China on the rising Indian influence / clout in Afghanistan, courtesy the patronage of US / West.
Given the historical relationship between Pakistan and China, and the factors enumerated above, where great convergence of option / interests exist between both the neighbors, it is generally presumed that enhanced Chinese involvement in Afghanistan would considerably benefit Pakistan. It would be interesting to note how the whole dynamics can have a different bearing with another line of argument: First, China has thus for supported Pakistan’s position on Afghan conflict regionally as well as internationally, and helped assuage the negative perception. Nonetheless, perpetual Chinese support on the issue is not assured and potentially, it may decline in the backdrop of changing dynamics vis-à-vis interests of China in Afghanistan. Second, Beijing would expect Pakistan to emulate Chinese policy on Afghanistan which is likely to be driven by economic interests. The essence of peace for greater economical activities in Afghanistan may bring China on board with the interests of US / West and incumbent Afghan government, even at the cost of a just and sustainable political resolution of the issue. It would subject Pak to renewed expectations, demands and coercion, from none else than our most trusted ally. Third, China remains wary of Islamic military in Muslim majority Xinjiang / Uygur and has been diplomatically expressing concerns on the presence of East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the militant out fit responsible for terrorist activities in China, in Pakistani tribal areas. With the enhanced role / interests in Afghanistan, Chinese concerns with militancy, especially activities of ETIM, will put it in line with other victims of the phenomenon namely US / West and even India. Such a scenario can never be a healthy sign for the interests of Pakistan.
To summarize, the prospects of dividends for Pakistan through greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan appear a double edged phenomenon. Beijing’s growing economic interests in Afghanistan will play an increasingly important, perhaps decisive, role in its overall calculus toward that country. The possibility of benefits for Pakistan through an extended Chinese involvement in Afghanistan cannot be disregarded altogether; nevertheless, we may have to pay an unacceptable cost at the later stage.