The recently held Afghan peace talks, in which senior officials from the Afghan government, Pakistan, China and the US participated called for restoration of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Whether, the talks would yield positive result or like the past would fail and would further antagonize the Taliban, is yet to be seen. However, the willingness on part of the Afghan government for peace in Afghanistan coupled with the interest of neighbouring as well as major players in the talks leaves hope for optimism. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad Chaudhry, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson, the US Defence Representative in Pakistan General Anthony Rock, and China’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan affairs Deng Xijun attended the meetings. There was no representation from the Taliban side. The next round of talks are being planned in Islamabad on February 6, 2016.
Since the withdrawal of the US led coalition from Afghanistan, the Taliban have intensified attacks, and the Afghan security forces are encountering Taliban fighters. Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said: “the primary goal should be to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table and give up violence”. Pakistan has always supported the peace efforts for a stable Afghanistan. Pakistan’s tribal belt, located in close proximity with Afghanistan has been the worst sufferer during the wars in Afghanistan. The hostile forces opposed to Pakistan had employed the wars for furtherance of their nefarious agenda. This has also spearheaded insinuations of mistrust between the two neighbours.
China’s growing interest in Afghanistan (as well as the region) is likely to have a stabilizing impact. China shares a border with Afghanistan, and is concerned about the rise of militancy in the country. The extremist elements in Afghanistan could impact the Western Xinjiang province. China has expressed the willingness to coordinate with all the stakeholders and help restart the peace talks. As stated by Hong Lei, Spokesperson China’s Foreign Ministry: “China supports the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process, and stands ready to play a constructive role to that end”. China is also the leading foreign investor in Afghanistan. Chinese investment in Afghanistan include US $ 3 billion in the East (Aynak copper mine located in Logar province), and about US $ 700 million in the North (oil and gas exploration located in the Sar-e-Pol and Faryab provinces of Northern Afghanistan). Moreover, Afghanistan holds significance for China, in the backdrop of Chinese led “Silk Road Economic Belt”. Thus, Afghanistan is a priority in China’s neighborhood diplomacy. An insecure Afghanistan could be an impediment to China’s economic vision. Over the years, China has assisted Afghanistan in building of infrastructural projects, and had contributed towards the social development of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has seen war for decades. After 12 years of war, terrorism had not been eradicated. Instead, the Afghan turmoil had ramified the region. A militancy-plagued Afghanistan could be a threat for the region’s stability. The neighbouring as well as regional countries could jointly address the Afghan issue. It is hoped that the peace building efforts of the regional and global actors will be a sigh of relief, would lay the foundation of peace/stability and bring an end to the decades old armed conflict. In line with the prevailing geo-economic outlook, a cooperative regional approach is required (and the blame game should stop). Through developmental projects, the economically weak Afghanistan could be empowered. A stable and economically vibrant Afghanistan could be an ‘Asian transit’, connecting Central Asia to South Asia and East Asia to West Asia. Regional pipelines, in particular TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) could be materialized. On the other hand, if the regional states fail to cooperate over the Afghan peace process and continue to tow their respective stands, the peace efforts would go in vain. This would also embolden the evil elements of terrorism and extremism, which in turn, would be devastating for the entire region.
Amna Ejaz Rafi,
Researcher, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessary reflective of IPRI policy.