China the neighboring Pakistan. It plans to

ChinaBuilds Military Base in                          Afghanistan                                                      Peter KORZUN  The Afghan Badakhshan province bordersthe China’s province of Xinjiang. It waspart of the ancient Silk Road linking theEast to the West. Today, the Silk Road is beingrevived and the China’s interestin the province is on the rise. Afghanistanboasts large deposits of raw materials China could import.  Beijing is investing$55 billion in the neighboring Pakistan. It plans toconstruct an economic corridor stretching to the Arabian Sea.

The project willspur the world economy.  Afghanistan canbenefit too. China is the Afghanistan’s largest trading partner and investor.   According toits “OneBelt, One Road” (OBOR) project, a big infrastructure is to bebuilt in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Stability in Afghanistan corresponds to China’sinterests but there is little hope the United States can bring it.  After all, it has not achieved anysubstantial gains since 2001. There have been surges and reductions, changes oftactics and strategy, numerous reports on how to change the tide of war but theTaliban is strong, the economy is in shambles with drugs trafficking being theonly business to thrive.

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So far, the Trump administration has not presented along-awaited strategy defining its Afghanistan policy, despite the fact that thereare 8400 American troops in the country. The presence will increase soon. TheUS relationships with pertinent actors, such as Pakistan, are in shambles.

Washington has recently suspended military aid to that country.    The instability in Afghanistan threatens the China-Pakistan EconomicCorridor – an important element of OBOR. China is acting as a mediator to reconcilethe   differences between the countries of the region.The Afghanistan-Pakistan relations worsened in 2017 as they exchanged mutual accusationsof rendering support to jihadists operating in the border areas. Beijing isworking hard  to improve the relations betweenthe two countries.

It arranged a tripartitemeeting at foreign ministers level in 2017. The talks producedworking panels to promote cooperation in various areas.  Another meeting is  expected to take place thisyear in Kabul. TheEastTurkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighurnationalist and Islamic movement from China’s Xinjiang region, is operating in Afghanistan. The militants gaincombat experience fighting side by side with the Taliban and other militantgroups. Beijing does not want the seasoned warriors to come back and engage interrorist activities on its territory.Russiaand China step up military aid to Central Asian states.

  They believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) can substantially contribute into achieving peaceful settlement. Both aretrying to create a network of regional states. Moscow and Beijing are motivatedby their national interests, which coincide. As major powers they are workingtogether to promote security in Afghanistan and Central Asia.Alltold, the China’s interest is strong enough to justify military engagement beyondits borders. The Afghan government officials reportedthat China is tobuild a military base in Badakhshan.  The discussionson the location and further technicalities for the base areto start soon.

The weapons and equipment will be Chinese butthe facility will be manned by Afghan military. No doubt, Chinese militaryinstructors and other personnel will come to carry out for train and assistmissions. The preparations for construction have alreadybegun.  Vice Chairmanof China’s Central Military Commission XuQilian saidthe construction is expected to be complete in 2018. In2017, the Taliban delivered serious strikes temporarilycapturing Ishkashim and Zebak districts of Badakhshan from the government troops. TheAfghan government failed to provide the military presence substantial enough toensure security. Before the attacks, an agreement with local field commanders hadbeen in place, giving them their share of  lapis lazuli production in exchange for peace.

Butinternal bickering undermined the fragile peace between the local groups andthe Taliban seized the opportunity to intervene. The Islamic State’s presencein the province is a matter of special concern. It makes border security an issue of paramount importance for Beijing.

Thequestion is how far is China ready to go? Until now, it has limited its militaryactivities to special operations teams patrolling the WakhanCorridor.   A military base in Badakhshan is an importantmove to demonstrate   Beijing is ready to expand its presence in thecountry and become an alternative to the United States.  China has a trump card the US lacks – the cooperationof Russia and Pakistan. Beijing represents the SCO, a large internationalorganization comprising such actors as Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan and the countriesof Central Asia.  The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group’s activities were restarted last year upon the initiative of Russian president VladimirPutin. They were suspended in 2009.  Russiaadvocates launching direct talks between the Afghan Government andthe Taliban as soon as possible.

Beijing supports the idea. Moscow has said it isready to host aconference on Afghanistan.   TheSCO can make the crisis management process a real multilateral effort.

It will reducethe clout of the US but increase chances for peace. Security cooperation anddiplomatic activities can open new chapter in the Afghan history.         

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