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China – a possibility of brokering between Afghanistan, Taliban and Pakistan

January 14, 2015

Summary: signs of a growing and constructive engagement from China

China, Afghanistan and troublesome Xinjiang province...

China, Afghanistan and troublesome Xinjiang province…

This is certainly one to watch, albeit without getting your hopes up.  China might be looking to step up its involvement in Afghanistan, specifically with a view towards guiding the Taliban into a peace dialogue with the Afghan government.

“…China’s diplomatic corps has in recent months been trying on a new role: talking with the Afghan Taliban in an effort to play peacemaker.

Late last year, two Afghan Taliban officials traveled with Pakistani officials to Beijing to discuss a potential peace process among Afghanistan’s warring parties, according to three current and former Afghan officials. And that may not have been the first such meeting…one Pakistani journalist said that China’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Sun Yuxi, had traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, to meet with Afghan Taliban representatives weeks earlier.

Despite years of war and turmoil in Afghanistan, China had long seemed reluctant to become directly involved. So what has changed to move it to try to mediate with Islamist militants now? According to Chinese and foreign analysts, the answer lies in three factors: China’s growing worries about a Uighur uprising on its own frontier; concern about more instability on its western border after the main American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan; and urgency to secure access to Afghan mineral and oil deposits where Chinese companies have already made large investments.”

Talks between the Taliban, Afghanistan and Pakistan at separate times appear to have been taking place, although the report suggests that the China are – sensibly – being very cagey about making anything other than the most general of statements at present.  China and Pakistan do have some kind of “special relationship”, so a genuine and tactful effort by China to guide Pakistan away from its confused and schizophrenic approach to sponsorship of terrorism might yield better results than the US’s efforts.

Chinese has kept itself clear of the Afghan political and military dramas afflicting the country, most recently as the international community and Afghan government battled the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the country.  Its interest in Afghanistan is very understandably and self-interestedly driven by raw economic and security issues.  They need the mineral resources inside the country (the copper mine at Aynak is classically representative of this).  But secure trade, resource and communications routes westwards into Central Asia certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.  Finally, remembering that there is actually a tiny land border between China and Afghanistan, unstable Muslim insurgents in Afghanistan risk triggering/provoking/inspiring the emergence of unstable Muslim insurgents in the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang (the home of the Muslim Uighur ethnic group).

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