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Pakistan-Afghanistan relations — II

China is the biggest neighbor on Afghanistan’s north, although it occupies a thin border through the Wakhan panhandle. Its first and foremost priority is securing own borders adjacent to Afghanistan and has abiding concerns about Xinjiang militants getting support from Afghanistan. As a pragmatic and overly cautious nation, it is averse to repeating the mistakes of Russia and the US in Afghanistan: military interventions or ‘nation- building’ in alien cultures. If and when it decides to offer major assistance it will be with minimal physical presence as in Congo, Sudan and other parts of Africa and Latin America.

For the Afghan leadership, China holds a benign and positive view. Some years ago, it had signed some deals on mining, oil and gas but these did not materialize due to uncertain conditions in Afghanistan. Having initiated contacts with the Taliban in 2014 its long-term interests are securing borders, investment and use of natural resources and possibly Afghan admission into CPEC. If so, it has a ‘foot in the door’ and when things normalize it could take a decision. However, Beijing will continue to play a role, but not a forward one, and will seek to focus single-mindedly on national interests, which concerns Uyghur militants using the country as a base against them.

On the whole, the Chinese remain skeptical of any US aid promises to Afghans. Its Foreign Minister Wang aptly remarked to US Foreign Secretary, Blinken: “the US side cannot, on the one hand, deliberately contain and suppress China and undermine China’s legitimate rights and interests, and on the other hand, expect support and cooperation from China…such logic never exists in international exchanges.”

Seemingly, after coming to power this time, the Taliban have pledged to respect the rights of women and minority communities. Acquisition of power after prolonged resistance ordinarily should sober up and pose current harsh realities of governance and ‘live and let live’ policy in foreign relations. On assumption of power they had also agreed that they will not allow their soil to be used against neighbors but events belie their promise.

Iran and Pakistan due to physical proximity are directly affected countries with Afghan change. Notwithstanding Iran’s eagerness to recognize Afghan regime despite some reservations it emphasizes ‘inclusive government’ whiles protecting the Shi’ite community and others for minority rights. India, a distant neighbour, but involved in Afghan affairs since decades also wants to re-open channels of trade and investment with Afghanistan and links with Northern Alliance: its interests are in resuming investments and subsequently the Central Asian republics.

In sum, the Afghan situation remains murky and fluid; skepticism lurks in many circles about the intentions, policies and how the regime contours itself or moulds into a specific shape. For the situation to normalize, flexibility is needed on both sides — from the US as well as the Taliban regime.

That Afghanistan needs urgent and sustained support from the international community to avert a humanitarian catastrophe is a fact. It is, therefore, about time the world engaged with Taliban. The US pre-conditions could be somewhat relaxed under special Afghan conditions.

South Asia, of which Afghanistan is a part, needs normalization and peace. Moreover CPEC beckons inclusion of Afghanistan and the latter could gain much as a landlocked nation.

In the meantime, Pakistan could start bilateral trade, export essential food items, import Afghan iron ore and render assistance in education and health sectors, besides others. This would hopefully lay the basis for regional connectivity.

, "Pakistan-Afghanistan relations — II," Business recorder. 2022-03-02.
Keywords: Political sciences , Foreign relation , Foreign minister , South Asia , Afghanistan , Pakistan , CPEC , US

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