It looks like Afghanistan could join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Chinese officials said on Tuesday that they are considering bringing Afghanistan into the $57 billion project, which is part of China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative aimed at linking China with the rest of Asia and also Europe. If Afghanistan joins CPEC, it could be quite good for all of Asia, even though India opposes the project.
First trilateral talks held between Pakistan, China and Afghanistan
According to Daily Pakistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke to reporters in Beijing on Tuesday as the first trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and China wrapped up with a vow to promote political unity among them. Wang had invited Pakistan and Afghanistan to hold the trilateral talks, and Pakistan Foreign Minster Khawaja Asif led his nation’s delegation, while Afghanistan Acting Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani led the delegation from his nation.
A joint press release on the trilateral talks included a statement from all three foreign ministers, who agreed to work jointly on “political mutual trust and reconciliation, development cooperation and connectivity, security cooperation and counter-terrorism.”
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The three nations also agreed to step up their counter-terrorism efforts and not allow other countries, groups or individuals to utilize their territories to commit acts of terror. It seems like this pledge could be an indirect reference to Pakistan and Afghanistan’s history of accusing each other of plotting to destabilize the other through violence, many observers say. Chinese state-run media outlet Xinhua also reported that Afghanistan echoed Pakistan’s plan to create panels to work on areas such as politics, intelligence, military, refugees and economy.
All three countries also agreed to work together on a Memorandum of Understanding on Counter-Terrorism Cooperation,” according to the statement on the trilateral talks. Further, the plan called for the inclusion of the Taliban in the peace process, reports The Tribune.
Benefits expected if Afghanistan joins CPEC
Wangi said China’s Belt and Road Initiative includes a modern “Silk Road,” which includes not only land-based routes to connect China with Southeast and Central Asia but also sea-based routes to connect the nation with Europe and the Middle East.
The Chinese foreign minister explained that if Afghanistan joins CPEC, both China and Pakistan would see it as a win-win that would benefit all three nations. He also described the addition of Afghanistan to the project as “an appropriate means” to extend the massive connectivity project through Pakistan and into Afghanistan.
China has been attempting to warm relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan recently, according to Daily Pakistan. Relations between the two nations have been growing tenser since the U.S. set its military presence up. The situation has gotten even more complex in the past few years. Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of offering support to the Taliban in Kabul for the ultimate purpose of holding back Indian influence in Afghanistan, although Pakistan denies any such involvement. Wang said that the two countries agreed to work on their relations.
Pakistan’s foreign minister said in a statement that if CPEC is implemented successfully, it can be “a model for enhancing connectivity and cooperation through similar projects.” According to Reuters, Wang said successful implementation will require all three nations to reach a consensus on the process, starting with projects that are smaller and easier to complete.
Wang also said it’s important for Kabul to join CPEC because it will improve the lives of Afghan citizens. If Afghanistan joins CPEC, it could theoretically improve the quality of life within its own borders by boosting regional inter-connectivity. Rabbani emphasized Afghan peace and sovereignty as key issues in his remarks about the dialogues with China and Pakistan, avoiding the delicate topic of his nation’s accusations that Pakistan supports Taliban militants.
India could be concerned if Afghanistan joins CPEC
India has been opposed to CPEC because part of the project runs through the disputed Kashmir region, which India considers to be its territory although it is administered by Pakistan. Traditionally, relations between India and Afghanistan have been solid, especially since 2011 when the two nations signed their first strategic partnership agreement since 1979. If Afghanistan joins CPEC, it could have a negative impact on relations with India, but on the other hand, greater connectivity in the region would likely be beneficial for all neighbors.
If Afghanistan joins CPEC, it could also run up against U.S. President Donald Trump’s new South Asian policy. Trump blames Pakistan for terrorist attacks in both India and Afghanistan and calls for New Delhi’s role in rebuilding Afghanistan to grow larger. Trump’s policy certainly hasn’t helped relations between Islamabad and Kabul this year, so Beijing’s attempt to broker stronger relations between the two countries became even more challenging.
Although Wang did not name India or the U.S. by name, he did say that the trilateral talks between China, Pakistan and Afghanistan weren’t targeted at any other parties. He also said that outside influences will not have an impact on their trilateral relations. The next series of trilateral talks between the three nations is expected to be held next year in Kabul.