Afghanistan, China and Pakistan come together to break a stalemate

Historians agree that violence has never brought prosperity to any region. Certainly, the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China concur with that belief. As they gathered in Kabul on December 15, they renewed the call on all parties to end the fighting in Afghanistan.

The meeting was second in a series of dialogues between the foreign ministers of the three countries. Exploring options to ensure regional peace, it was highly significant in three interconnected aspects.

First, the joint statement reaffirmed the commitment to lead Afghanistan back onto the path to peace through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. This is the only way if Kabul is to be able to bring all warring elements under its influence and provide them with a channel to abandon their extremist links.

Secondly, stress has been laid on countering terrorism. Coordination in this regard has been enhanced with signing of an MoU that all terrorist threats in the region will be neutralized without any discrimination.

The third aspect addresses inadequate infrastructure facilities that restrict Afghanistan from making full use of its trade capacity. During the dialogue, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), already helping Pakistan in overcoming its logistical shortcomings, was warmly praised by Afghanistan. The joint statement endorsed advancing connectivity under the BRI and other regional economic modes.

Stability in Afghanistan is one of the prime national concerns of Pakistan, seeing that it hosts 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees. Even though Pakistan has been making efforts to encourage their gradual return to Afghanistan, the process is not easy to achieve.

Then, there is the massive international trade that can materialize for Pakistan with the bringing of peace in its western neighbor. Afghanistan has, for centuries, served as a transit route for trade between Central and South Asia. Although the volume of trade has dropped after decades of conflict, its potential hasn't. For this very reason, Pakistan is engaged in progressive peace overtures to rejuvenate its own and the Afghan economies.

Bringing Afghanistan into the BRI net is also a priority for Pakistan. Islamabad intends a westward extension of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the BRI, for the benefit of its underdeveloped regions and improve connectivity with Afghanistan.

BRI, by the same token, connects Central Asian states with China on the east and with Europe on the west. Afghanistan's participation in the initiative will open up a new and economical route for these states to connect with South Asian, Middle Eastern and African markets – simultaneously offering the same advantages to Afghanistan.

The Chinese government supports an improvement of Afghanistan's infrastructure network, while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sees the BRI as a means to strengthen regional cooperation. It is, therefore, only a matter of time before the Afghan government formally joins the Belt and Road program.  

As Afghanistan steps up collaboration with China, an increase in bilateral trade will lead to an assured recovery of its own economy. Export costs will be lowered in transporting goods to a regional market as compared to far-flung ones, and access to Chinese consumers will contribute to its industrial productivity.

In short, the dialogue initiated by China, Pakistan and Afghanistan makes it clear that regional players are serious about ending a conflict that can be termed, at best, a multi-billion-dollar stalemate.

All three also agree on the need for a settlement and seek practical ways to achieve this through the dialogue. Since the prospects of a strong, stable and prosperous Afghanistan are far too appealing to consider any other option.

The author is a Pakistan-based freelance journalist and commentator.

Editor: 曹家宁
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