President Biden’s abrupt announcement on pullout way ahead of the September deadline couldn’t have come at a worse moment.
Now, as the intra-Afghan dialogue stands still, and both President Ashraf Ghani as well as the Taliban refuse to budge from their stated positions, their country faces an uncertain future in a security vaccume triggered by the decision to exit that country – virtually lock stock and barrel. This leaves the country vulnerable to mutually hurtful hostilities between state and non-state actors, namely the defense forces and the Taliban.
Such an embattled situation is not only debilitating for the 25 million Afghans but also serves as a fertile ground for proxy terrorists such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh / ISIS, and those affiliated with them directly or otherwise including the TTP, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and ETIM .
This tantalizingly worrisome scenario throws up big security challenges for Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors i.e. Iran, Pakistan, China, particularly the Central Asian Republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It threatens spillover of violence, crime and an exodus of refugees to these countries. This also provides an easier environment for cross-border organized crime to operate and run drugs and arms.
China under your leadership – as the ardent advocate of geo-economics and a strong believer in multi-lateral regional trade connectivity for the benefit of every nation – has walked the talk through dozens of major infrastructure projects across Asia and Africa.
But the challenging circumstances in Afghanistan threaten peace and development not only within but also beyond.
A big crisis is upon our heads. History tells us that the sooner we raise firewalls against possible spillover the better for all of us. Insulating the region against the unwanted consequences of a hasty US withdrawal seems to be imperative under the current circumstances.
What can China do to contain the spiral of violence and prevent the region from sliding into a protracted phase of instability?
China could now take lead in organising a regional conference of SIX IMMEDIATE NEIGHBORS of Afghanistan (Iran, Pakistan, China, particularly Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). Russia (being the lead in the intergovernmental military alliance Collective Security Treaty Organization and the US ( as lead in NATO) may also join as observers.
All key Afghan stakeholders – from President Ashraf Ghani to the Taliban Chief negotiator Mulla Baradar should also be invited to this conclave to discuss threadbare the immediate and potential medium term issues and figure out possible ways out of the crisis triggered by the US withdrawal.
Your government already took an unconscious but bold initiative by hosting the Taliban delegation at Beijing on July 27. The Six Plus Three (Russia, US and Afghanistan) could be the sequel to that meeting, albeit at a greater inclusive level.
The second big step to possible mitigating measures could be a direct engagement with all non Pashtun leaders like Dr.Abdullah Abdullah and Abdul Rashid Dostum ( who enjoys good relations with Turkey)
Insulating immediate geographic neighbors from the unwanted consequences of continued civil strife in Afghanistan through collaboratively charted firewalls must be the primary focus of the regional peace conference.
Protecting long term concerns of these neighbors by collectively seeking a peaceful end to war in Afghanistan is what the circumstances demand both in the interest of hapless Afghan people as well as regional stability and security.
After the US disengagement China finds itself at the cusp of an historically critical juncture of regional politics; the Chinese nation was still going through economic reforms with an inward focus on people when a battered Soviet Union ended its occupation of Afghanistan in February 1989. But, now that the US and Allies have called off their military presence, China stands almost at a par with sole super power i.e the United States.
This global status imposes certain responsibilities on China as a country that has made astounding progress under your leadership. It is time to demonstrate that Beijing is concerned about Afghanistan which is critical for regional peace and economic development.
We as Asian nations have to assume socio-political responsibilities to underscore that we care for our neighbours more than any body else.
China has to now openly demonstrate to the rest of the world the important position and role it has in this evolving, critical regional scenario.
The latter action may also counter the notions – right or wrong – that the West intervened in Afghanistan for its own interests.
One would hope that all Afghan stakeholders as well as the US and Russia would accept to attend a China-sponsored conference of IMMEDIATE NEIGHBOURS of Afghanistan, instead of yet again politicizing the agenda of peace and development.
Helpless Afghans and their extended neighbours are now anxiously looking up to China and wondering as to whether your country is ready to step in to arrest the spiral of violence in the greater interest of the entire region. Beijing can indeed seize is an historic opportunity rendered by the hasty US withdrawal.
This article first appeared in Matrix Mag. Click here to go to the original.
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