Six Factors Affecting Peace Prospects in and Around Afghanistan
As September 21 marks Ashraf Ghani's first year in office as President of Afghanistan, EWI Senior Fellow Najam Abbas draws attention to six evolving developments in recent months, analysing how these could contribute in the coming year to creating a conducive climate of cooperation allowing China, India, Russia and their partners to achieve improved relations in both Central and South Asia.
Amidst much concern and gloom around the situation in and around Afghanistan, it is important to take into view following six factors which may contribute towards increased regional efforts for stabilizing in the coming months.
Firstly, at a time when the withdrawal of NATO and allied forces from Afghanistan has created a vacuum of power, China has taken cautious steps to take a leading role in that country. Beijing has also realized that time is not at the side of Russia (which could have filled in the gap created after the pullout of the American troops from Afghanistan). Becoming entangled in the aftermath of Ukrainian crisis having annexed Crimea, it will become difficult for Russia to regain its leading status in the region Afghanistan- Central Asia region which is now being assumed by China. In contrast to Russia, the Chinese have approached Afghanistan with utmost flexibility and caution with calculated measures to carve out a space for themselves.
Secondly, China’s offer to facilitate a dialogue seeking peace and political reconciliation between the Afghan and Pakistan government was among other factors also expedited by Ashraf Ghani who in his maiden foreign visit as Afghanistan’s president requested China in October 2014 to facilitate reconciliation with Pakistan. Having approached with close allies of Pakistan as intermediaries has resulted in senior Pakistani military officials establishing closer contact with their Afghan counterparts. These initiatives will help Pakistan and Afghanistan address each other’s security concerns and also to contribute the two neighbours reshape their respective strategic paradigms as partners in of pursuit of joint solutions to common challenges. It is said that if Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government provides assurances and guarantees regarding Pakistan’s security, then upon acquiring a reliable partner, Islamabad will not have the need to seek any alternate or additional guarantees from non-state actors in Afghanistan. These have been followed by the initiatives encouraging Pakistan to facilitate negotiations to find ways and means to bring peace and reconciliation between the warring Afghan factions.
A third important development is the talks between different Afghan factions involving the Taliban and the government for bringing peace in Afghanistan with some rounds being facilitated by and held in China. In November of 2014 and on 7th July 2015, China facilitated peace talks between Afghanistan’s warring factions, a third round scheduled for 30th July was postponed as some circles broke the news that the Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died two year ago. Making public of this fact at this stage was aimed to reflect that (a) the Taliban are without any real leadership and (b) they may not have unanimity of ranks and hence (c) in the absence of any genuine unified leadership the Taliban do not enjoy much authority to enter into and conclude any negotiations about the future of Afghanistan. However, the new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur is said to be inclined towards a negotiated settlement with the Afghan authorities but he will need to demonstrate how he will rally support for a majority of Taliban followers to back a peace agreement.
A fourth notable matter is that China and India have worked together to bring gradual improvement in their bilateral relations moving from past a relationship of rivalry and mutual misgivings to cautious cooperation. The joint statement issued during Indian Premier Narendra Modi’s May 2015 visit to Peking declared: “We have a historic responsibility to turn this relationship into a source of strength for each other and a force of good for the world.” In his keynote address at the India-China Business Forum, Modi said: ‘Indo-Chinese partnership should and will flourish. As two major economies in Asia, the harmonious partnership between India and China is essential for the economic development and political stability of the continent’.
Fifthly, the granting of full membership to India and Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization makes SCO the organization which now has three countries Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan sharing borders with Afghanistan (also an observer state in SCO). According to Outlook magazine’s commentator Sibal Dasgupta under the SCO auspices China, India and Pakistan will regularly share the same table to consider solutions to common challenges. This is a major development which will help them to look at the issues from a wider perspective and interact with each other in an improved context. Given that India and Pakistan both are being conferred full membership of the SCO, it will be an excellent forum for the two countries to deliberate at the highest level on critical issues like countering terrorism, and break ice on bilateral issues on the sidelines, notes Professor Swaran Singh from Delhi.
Sixthly, with economic sanctions expected to be gradually lifted from Iran, efforts will increase for connecting Western Afghanistan closer with the Iranian port of Chahbahar, a step which will also facilitate increased trade between India and Central Asia and contribute to regional prosperity.
This article was originally published on BBC Uzbek. Click here to read (in Uzbek).