Seeking to bridge the divide between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the second China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ trilateral dialogue took place recently. Promoting regional integration, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed, “China and Pakistan are willing to look at with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan.”
Observing that Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to mend their strained relations, he added that “easier, smaller projects” would be initiated as a beginning to improve the Afghan economy and provide locals with livelihood.
Welcoming the offer, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani affirmed that Afghanistan was “ready to actively participate in the Belt and Road Initiative.” Adding that China is “a forever and reliable partner,” the Afghan minister received the suggestion with optimism.
Entering Afghanistan from the Khyber Pass once extended, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could proceed toward the north, crossing the Amu Darya River and onward to the South Aral Sea and Central Asia. Reconstructing this traditional route would link Central Asia with South Asia and open up new possibilities for all three countries.
Currently under construction throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan, the CPEC is considered the flagship of the six corridors included in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). An intricate network of highways, rail links, fiber-optic cables and pipelines, this 3,000-kilometer corridor connects the Silk Road in the north to the Maritime Silk Road in the south.
Adding Afghanistan to CPEC could end friction between Islamabad and Kabul after other mediation has failed. Seen as an olive branch, this reaching out of the BRI has the potential to benefit both neighbors and quell differences by adding common interests.
As observed by Zhou Rong of Renmin University in Beijing, “Afghanistan has strong enthusiasm toward corridor construction; they really hope that the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor can be the Pakistan-Afghanistan-China Economic Corridor.”
Appreciating the brotherly relations between Pakistan and China, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that successful implementation of the CPEC “will serve as a model for enhancing connectivity and cooperation through similar projects with neighboring countries, including Afghanistan [and] Iran, and with Central and West Asia.”
The Pakistani side proposed that working panels be formed for improved coordination on matters related to politics, economy, refugees, military and intelligence. This suggestion was supported by China, while Afghanistan also agreed.
Appreciating the amity, Wang Yi said: “This is important progress achieved in the meeting, as a good friend of Afghanistan and Pakistan, China is willing to play a constructive role in improving Afghanistan-Pakistan ties through the trilateral dialogue.”
Being the second trilateral meet held under China’s auspices since last June, the focus progressed further to enhanced cooperation in politics, economy and security.
Geopolitically, adding Afghanistan to CPEC happens to balance out India’s recent inauguration of Iran’s Chabahar Port, as extending CPEC would open up landlocked Afghanistan by providing access to Gwadar Port in Pakistan. Immensely convenient, this could prompt Iran to connect with the CPEC further down the road, with Chabahar complementing Gwadar as a “sister port.”
Providing the “necessary facilitation” to continue peace talks that began in 2015, Beijing says it will continue mediation efforts to end the civil war between the Afghan Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul. Once this aspect is dealt with satisfactorily, the reconstruction of Afghanistan would be viable.
Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan remains unstable as the conflict shows no sign of abating; air strikes and ground offensives have been at an all-time high this winter. Notwithstanding that, the entry of a neutral country like China has rekindled Afghan hopes for peace. Concluding that only an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” broad-based and inclusive peace process with regional and international support would prove effective, the joint statement said: “In this regard, they call on the Afghan Taliban to join the peace process at an early date.”
Strengthening security coordination and counterterrorism without discrimination came under discussion, with the Pakistani Foreign Office issuing a joint statement. It reads: “They expressed their strong determination not to allow any country, organization or individual to use their respective territories for terrorist activities against any other countries.”
According to the joint press release, the three countries “reaffirmed their commitment to improving their relations, deepening mutually beneficial cooperation, advancing connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative.” Agreeing to define a memorandum of understanding on counterterrorism, the three foreign ministers would “communicate and consult” and the next China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue would be held in Kabul this year.