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China’s increasing role in brokering peace in Afghanistan

M Waqas Jan

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As China continues to embrace its role as a major regional power, its increasing willingness to engage with the Afghan peace process offers an interesting indication to the emerging dynamics of the wider Central Asian region. Having already established considerable influence across large parts of Asia, the Persian Gulf, Africa and even Europe; China with the help of its Belt and Road Initiative has continued to leverage its widespread trade and economic relations for increased diplomatic goodwill, across a diverse range of countries. This has allowed China’s diplomatic relations with these countries to help shape what many have termed as a New World Order, which is directly in contention with the US’s unilateral supremacy. This is perhaps most apparent in China’s increasingly prominent role in Afghanistan, which serves as perhaps the most challenging yet most indicative example of China’s stated objectives of enhanced regional integration and shared prosperity.

The key challenge posed by Afghanistan comes to a large extent from the rampant insecurity and instability that has for decades characterized its relations with its neighbors. The impacts of the US led War or Terror (now in its 18th year) has for instance overshadowed many attempts by its neighbors to meaningfully engage in major trade, investment and/or development related activities. Recent statements from the US president regarding the impending withdrawal of US forces have cast even further uncertainty over these issues, specifically due to the lack of a coherent exit strategy from the US.

As a result, Afghanistan’s relations with its neighbors such as Iran, Pakistan and China are still weighed down heavily by security related issues. These include issues such as cross-border terrorism, the smuggling of illicit goods and services and the ensuing threats to the safety of foreign citizens residing in and travelling to Afghanistan. The need to address these issues has further come to serve as a major pre-condition to the eventual success of the fast developing China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as the overarching Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Especially considering how a key priority of the BRI is to socioeconomically develop the Xinjiang Autonomous region in Western China, there is a definite threat of the myriad security challenges plaguing Afghanistan to spill-over across its border into these areas.

China’s increasing willingness to play a greater role in the Afghan peace process, can thus be understood as emanating to a large extent from its increased stake in the wider region as part of the BRI. Based on this framework, China can be seen leveraging its increasingly close ties with Pakistan, as well as the Central Asian Republics to address the prevailing insecurity within Afghanistan at a more regional level. The recently held meetings between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan are indicative of this desire, as China continues to promote dialogue between the two neighbors. Furthermore, according to recent statements made by the Chinese ambassador in Pakistan, China is also working to promote ongoing talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban for which the Chinese government has appointed a special envoy to coordinate with the Taliban’s political office in Doha.

In addition to these diplomatic efforts, China is also reported to have ramped up its military cooperation with Afghanistan, providing millions of dollars in aid to the Afghan military. It has sought closer cooperation and military exchanges particularly with respect to counter-terrorism operations.  This has even given rise to rumors that China is mulling over setting up a military base in Afghanistan’s Badakshan province, close to the Wakhan Corridor which borders the Xinjiang region. While the Chinese government has officially denied such reports; such a base would purportedly be China’s second overseas military base, further bolstering its capability in projecting power beyond its own borders.

Hence, while China’s interests in fostering closer cooperation with Afghanistan are self-proclaimed to be promoting peace and regional stability, these measures have continued to irk the United States adding further tension to already fraught US-China relations. These include the long-standing effects of the ongoing US-China trade war, the increasing militarization of the South China Sea, as well as China’s fast increasing influence across the surrounding region. All of these factors arguably point towards the US’s own unsuccessful attempts at containing the rise of China, which exacerbated by China’s growing role in Afghanistan leads to the growing possibility of China eventually supplanting the US as the dominant power within Central Asia.

However, considering the vast array of challenges still facing Afghanistan, and the US’s tenuous hold over the region built over decades of war, the prevailing politico-economic dynamics of the region still remain as complex as ever. Thus, even though China’s increasing focus on Afghanistan is likely to benefit the region as a whole, its most recent efforts are likely to bear fruit only over the long-run. That is also only if China and its surrounding countries remain committed to the overall vision of regional peace and prosperity that is enshrined within the Belt and Road Initiative.

Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the China Study & Information Centre (CS & IC) at the Strategic Vision Institute, a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad. He can be reached at waqas[at]thesvi.org

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Pakistan-India: Old blame-game was not successful in past and may not work in future

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India was in a habit of blaming and coercing Pakistan for its failures to over-come domestic issues. I a matter of fact, it has been seven decades that Pakistan was established as in independent state, but India has never accepted it and always tried to destabilize Pakistan and over-taking this country. India is still dreaming of “Akhand Baharat” (Bigger India) which includes Pakistan and many other countries in the neighborhood up to Indonesia and Australia.

In past, whenever, India coerce Pakistan, the political leadership always try to fond escape, but today the Pakistan is in the control of strong leadership, who is sincere, honest, brave and patriot.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on 19 February 2019 said Islamabad will take action if Delhi shares any actionable evidence concerning last week’s suicide bombing in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama area which had targeted Indian paramilitary soldiers. But unfortunately, India has nothing except lies.

While offering cooperation and another chance at a dialogue over the Kashmir issue, the premier also warned India against any act of aggression, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliating to a provocation. Pakistan is not in the position of war, but if imposed, may retaliate in a manner which suits us. However, he made it clear that he hopes better sense will prevail.

“First of all, you accused Pakistan. There was no evidence. You never thought: ‘What would be in it for Pakistan?’,” he said. “Would even a fool do such a thing to sabotage his own conference? And even if he the crown prince had not been visiting, what benefit would Pakistan get from it the Pulwama attack?”

“You wish to remain stuck in the past, and each time something happens in Kashmir, you want to hold Pakistan responsible. Instead of trying to resolve the Kashmir issue, start a dialogue or move forward, you want to make Islamabad your whipping boy again and again,” the prime minister said, addressing Delhi. This will not work anymore. “I am telling you clearly, this is naya(New) Pakistan. It is a new mindset, a new way of thinking. We believe that it is in our interest that our soil is not used for carrying out terrorist attacks in other countries, nor do we want outsiders to come and carry out terror attacks here. We desire stability,” he asserted.”Today, I would like to make the Indian government an offer. Any sort of investigation you wish carried out regarding this incident about the involvement of any Pakistani, we are ready for it.”If you have any actionable intelligence that a Pakistani is involved, give it to us. I guarantee you that we will take action ─ not because we are under pressure, but because they any individuals found involved are acting as enemies of Pakistan.””If someone is using Pakistan’s soil to carry out terror attacks elsewhere, it is akin to enmity with us. It is against our interests.”

The prime minister added that whenever Pakistan tries to initiate dialogue with India, Delhi’s precondition is that terrorism must be talked about.”We are ready to talk about terrorism. We want terrorism in the region to end,” he stated. “Pakistan has been the worst affected by terrorism. Therefore, we are ready to talk with you.”

“And after that, where does the matter go? We all know that starting a war is easy. But starting a war may be in our hands, ending it won’t be. Where it the tide of war will go, God knows. That’s why I hope that better sense will prevail.””This issue will only be resolved through dialogue and talks,” he concluded.

Based on historical facts, “Whenever there is supposed to be an important event in Pakistan, or the country is moving towards stability, then there is always some sort of staged incident in either India or occupied Kashmir,” the DG ISPR said, adding that such incidents also seem to occur when India is just months away from elections. Below is list of such incidents:

“In Dec 2001 ─ the Indian parliament attack ─ India was supposed to have general elections and the presidential election in 2002, the United Nations General Assembly was in session. It was around this time that an influx of terrorists began on Pakistan’s western border following 9/11.

“When the Mumbai attack took place, our progress in the war on terror was quite good and at this time too, there were to be general elections in India from February to December.

“On Jan 2, 2016, Pathankot happened. The President of the United States’ State of the Union address was due. India was to see state elections and there were foreign secretary-level talks scheduled between India and Pakistan. That was scuttled,” he said.

“The Uri incident happened on Sept 18, 2016, when our prime minister was set to go to the UNGA to deliver a speech,” he added.

“So this pattern shows that whenever in Pakistan there is some important event due, some staged action of this sort takes place,” Maj Gen Ghafoor noted.

He pointed out that there were eight significant events to take place either in Pakistan or involving Pakistan in the period Feb-March 2019:

  • Saudi crown prince’s visit and investment conference
  • Discussion on United Nations Security Council terror listing
  • Afghan peace talks
  • European Union discussion on occupied Kashmir
  • Hearing of Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case at the International Court of Justice
  • Discussion on FATF report
  • Meeting between Pakistan, Indian officials on Kartarpur Corridor developments
  • Pakistan Super League matches to be played in Pakistan

The DG ISPR also observed that India was to hold elections in the coming months even as “an indigenous struggle in occupied Kashmir is at its peak and out of India’s control”.”In light of these events, what benefit would Pakistan get from involvement in the Pulwama attack?” he questioned. In fact ‘India should question its security forces’.  “India began showering Pakistan with accusations immediately after the attack without sparing a moment to think, and without any evidence in hand,” Ghafoor said.”From the Line of Control onwards, Indian security forces have layered defences,” he said, explaining that there were layered lines of defence, one after another.”How is it possible for anyone from Pakistan to cross the LoC and go to some area where the population of security forces is greater than that of locals?”

“The Pulwama attack happened miles away from the LoC. The explosives that were employed were being used by the administration and security forces in occupied Kashmir, it didn’t go there from Pakistan,” Maj Gen Ghafoor said. “The car that was used was also local [to Kashmir]. It did not go there

“We do not wish to go into war, but please rest assured that should you initiate any aggression ─ first, you will never be able to surprise us. Pakistan armed forces will never be surprised by you. But let me assure you, we shall surprise you,” he promised.

“We have singleness of conception ─ from the prime minister, down to a citizen, from the three chiefs down to each soldier, all political parties, and all segments of life. We have a singleness of conception, and the will and the determination, the ways and means to reach our desired end state.

The army’s spokesman said that Pakistan in the 21st century was looking towards tackling issues such as education, health, and upholding the right of its citizens and future generations to live in peace ─ “not a war that you are trying to set the stage for”, he admonished India. The whole nation is united on one point agenda that to defend our country at all cost.

It is worth mentioning that both Pakistan and India, are nuclear states. If any misadventure will be initiated from India, Pakistan deserve to response in its own manner which suits Pakistan most. We are peace loving nation and strongly believe in “peace and diplomacy”. We keep on insisting for dialogue for last seven decades, India was always trying to escape behind any lame excuse.

India has been exposed to the rest of world and its atrocities in Kashmir has crossed all records. Let all the peace-loving nations and individuals come up to make India change its war-craze mind-set, once for all.

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South Asian Geopolitics: Saudi Arabia: 1 Iran: 0?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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It may be reading tea leaves but analysis of the walk-up to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit and his sojourn in Islamabad suggests that Pakistan may be about to fight battles on two fronts rather than just the Indian one in the wake of this month’s attacks in Kashmir.

Prince Mohammed’s expressions of unconditional support for Pakistan coupled with his promise of US$20 billion in investments in addition to US$6 billion in desperately needed financial aid raise the spectre of a shift in Pakistani efforts in recent years to walk a fine line in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

That fine line included a 2015 Pakistani refusal to send troops to the kingdom in support of the Saudi military intervention in Yemen.

Speaking to the Arab News this week, Major General Asif Ghafoor, head of the Pakistan army’s media wing, suggested that Pakistan’s commitment to Saudi Arabia was equally unconditional. “Pakistan is committed to standing by its Saudi brethren,” Maj. Gen. Ghafoor said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi seemed to fine tune the officer’s statement by not mentioning Yemen in his remarks to the Saudi paper and limiting Pakistan’s commitment to the kingdom itself. “If anyone would create chaos in or attack the Kingdom, Pakistan would stand by its brethren Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Qureishi said.

The stakes for Pakistan that borders on Iran and is home to the world’s largest minority Shiite Muslim community could not be higher.

Concerned that Pakistan’s position may be shifting, Iran this week dialled up the rhetoric by warning that Pakistan would “pay a high price” for last week’s attack in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan that killed 27 Revolutionary Guards.

Like with India in the case of Kashmir, Iran asserted that the perpetrators, Jaish-al-Adl, were operating from Pakistani territory with at least the tacit knowledge of Pakistani authorities. In an unusual disclosure, Iran said three of the six perpetrators of last week’s attack, including the suicide bomber, were Pakistani nationals.

In the past, Iran has by and large said that militants who had launched attacks were Iranian nationals rather than Pakistanis.

The tone of Revolutionary Guards chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari’s statement holding Pakistan, alongside the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, responsible for the recent attack reflected Iranian concern with what may flow from Prince Mohammed’s visit.

Why do Pakistan’s army and security body … give refuge to these anti-revolutionary groups? Pakistan will no doubt pay a high price. Just in the past year, six or seven suicide attacks were neutralized but they were able to carry out this one,”,” Maj. Gen. Jafari said in remarks live on state television.

Initially, Iran had limited itself to blaming external powers rather than Pakistan for the attack.

Indications suggesting that Prince Mohammed’s visit to Pakistan may have been about more than economic cooperation were severalfold and involved gestures that despite Pakistani denials would not have come without a price tag.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan expressed in a little noticed declaration in their joint statement at the end of the crown prince’s visit “the need to avoid politicization of the United Nations listing system.”

The statement  was implicitly referring to Indian efforts to get the UN Security Council to designate Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Mr. Azhar is the head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group that has claimed responsibility for the Kashmir attack.

China, which at Pakistan’s behest has blocked Mr. Azhar’s designation in recent years, this week rejected an Indian request that it lift its veto. China asserts that Indian evidence fails to meet UN standards.

The reference to UN listing in the Saudi-Pakistani statement seemingly failed to resonate in New Delhi where Prince Mohammed stopped after visiting Islamabad.

In another tantalizing incident, Mr. Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, did nothing to distance his country from a statement in his presence by Saudi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir accusing Iran of being the “world’s chief sponsor of terrorism

Similarly, in preparation of Prince Mohammed’s talks, retired General Raheel Sharif, the Pakistani commander of the Saudi-based, 40-nation Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), flew from Riyadh to Islamabad for talks with prime minister Imran Khan and Pakistani chief of staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Pakistan agreed to General Sharif’s appointment as commander despite its refusal to join the coalition in the belief that the 2017 Saudi request that he be seconded put the South Asian nation between a rock and hard place.

Pakistani military officials argued at the time that while the appointment would irritate Iran, refusal of the Saudi request would expose Pakistan to criticism from many more in the Islamic world.

Neither the Pakistani government nor the IMCTC gave details of General Sharif’s discussions. The IMCTC, however, said in a tweet that “salient contours of IMCTC’s domains and initiatives in the fight against #terrorism were discussed.”

The tone and gestures during Prince Mohammed’s visit contrasted starkly with positions adopted by Mr. Khan during his election campaign and immediately after he took office last year.

In his first post-election televised speech Mr. Khan made a point of discussing his country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“We want to improve ties with Iran. Saudi Arabia is a friend who has always stood by us in difficult times. Our aim will be that whatever we can do for conciliation in the Middle East, we want to play that role. Those tensions, that fight, between neighbours, we will try to bring them together,” Mr. Khan said.

The geopolitical fallout, if any, of what for now amounts to symbolism will likely only be evident in the weeks and months to come.

Beyond Iran’s toughening stance towards Pakistan in the wake of the attack on its Revolutionary Guards, tell-tale signs would be a closer Pakistani alignment with the Saud-led anti-terrorism coalition and the degree to which Pakistan-based militant launch attacks inside Iran.

Middle East scholar Michael Stephens, who heads the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) operation in Qatar suggested that reading the tea leaves may best be done with a grain of salt.

“Geography is what it is, and Pakistan will always have to maintain a relationship with Iran (economic and security) regardless of how much cash it gets from Riyadh… Pakistan will do what’s best for Pakistan, and not Riyadh, the US or Tehran. Telling everyone what they want to hear is kinda how this all works,” Mr. Stephens said.

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The Indo-Pak Conundrum: Victims to their Own Narratives

M Waqas Jan

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As tensions between nuclear armed India and Pakistan once again escalate in the wake of the devastating attack on Indian paramilitary personnel in Pulwama, one can’t help but bemoan the Sisyphean manner in which both countries seem locked in extolling the same narratives over and again. This applies not only to those aiming to broker some semblance of peace between the two age-old rivals, but also those capitalizing on the ensuing discord and enmity for their own benefit. There seems as a result an inescapable script which both the Indian and Pakistani sides seem condemned to follow.

For those unaware of the above reference, it is perhaps better to give a brief account of Sisyphus in order to understand its relevance to Indo-Pak ties. Sisyphus of Ancient Greek legend was condemned by the Gods to rolling a giant boulder up-hill only to watch it roll back down, repeating the tasked infinitum. This punishment, meted out to Sisyphus against his hubris has since often come to denote the futility of human action, in a harsh and unforgiving world. This idea has since been presented by many artists and thinkers in relation to mankind’s own search for the very meaning of existence.

In the near timeless case of India and Pakistan, Sisyphus’s punishing task which he is doomed to carry out eternally, bears a striking resemblance to the futility faced by statesmen and policy-makers from both sides in reaching an agreement over Kashmir. Their inability to break free from the decades old vitriol and bad blood, and to resort to the same threats of war and retaliation have come to characterize the narrative underlying Indo-Pak ties following every major Kashmir linked attack that has taken place in India. The Pathankot and Uri attacks from two years back, the Gurdaspur attack from 2015, the 2008 Mumbai attacks as well as the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi have all served to crystallize the animosity between both countries.

All and any efforts made towards even just normalizing relations have been as a result instantly derailed. It’s as if the recent strides made at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Katarpur corridor, the designation of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status with regard to trade, and the decades of people to people ties built around cultural and cricket diplomacy by countless artists, writers, poets musicians and professional athletes from both sides of the border; has all been rendered meaningless in just a matter of days following Pulwama.

It is extremely unfortunate that based on these dynamics, the very idea of brokering a sustainable and lasting peace between the two countries has itself reached mythic proportions. This gap has further widened based on the willful construction of a nationalist identity and narrative that is directly premised on the politics of ‘otherness’ both within and across the borders dividing India and Pakistan.

In the case of India, this aspect of otherness has reached an unprecedented scale with the rise of far right nationalist discourse premised on the principles of the BJP led Hindutva movement. In direct tension with the secular foundations of Indian democracy, many have attributed India’s descent into a religious inspired nationalism as a worrying precursor to regional instability. As the ruling BJP government comes to increasingly resort to the politics of otherness as part of its bid for re-elections, many have accused it of willfully spurring anti-Pakistan sentiments in an attempt at uniting a diverse and divisive electorate against a singular common enemy.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his recently televised official statement on Pulwama, addressed this very issue and directly attributed it to the reason behind the bellicose rhetoric being espoused by Indian leaders. In the same speech he also reiterated Pakistan’s resolve to retaliate and defend itself should tensions escalate to the point of military conflict.

This entire diplomatic exchange represents thus the same narrative that both sides have remained locked in as a result of Kashmir. The BJP led government in India, constrained by its inability to move beyond pandering to its core electorate, seems perhaps more unable than unwilling to break free from its own set narrative. On the other side, Pakistan’s position has more or less been characterized as being dominated by its influential military to which its foreign policy on India has widely been accused of being held hostage from its civilian government. Both narratives are in turn deeply ingrained in the above discussed politics of otherness, to which both sides seem condemned to repeating over and again.

However, if one was to go back to Prime Minister Khan’s inaugural speech from September last year, he has repeatedly claimed that both the Pakistani government and its military are on the same page with respect to its regional interests and foreign policy. Even in his statement on Pulwama, he offered in clear terms Pakistan’s commitment to working with India against terrorism across the region. He has clearly indicated that he is willing to move beyond these set narratives and work towards attaining the much illusive peace between the two countries. Whether Imran Khan is successful in bridging this ever growing divide between the two countries remains to be seen. However, the fact that he has willfully acknowledged and taken up this Sisyphean task for what it is, presents some hope for those worryingly looking at the war clouds looming over the South Asian region once again.

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