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Afghan role

As Beijing debates the policy implications of its rise to great power status,its media is actively promoting a discussion on how deep should China be drawn into the international efforts to stabilise Afghanistan....

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
December 30, 2009 12:39:46 am

As Beijing debates the policy implications of its rise to great power status,its media is actively promoting a discussion on how deep should China be drawn into the international efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. Three broad views have begun to emerge.

All of them highlight the importance of China undertaking the responsibilities that come with being a great power. They all agree that Afghanistan is a vital region on the Chinese frontiers and that bringing peace and stability to the war torn nation in Beijing’s vital interest.

The first view argues that Beijing should stop seeing Afghanistan as an exclusive problem of the United States and

recognise it as a long-term challenge to China’s own security. It goes on to say that “China possesses almost unlimited

resources and capability to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan and by providing substantive support,China can help the reconstruction of Afghanistan for the benefit of the Afghan people as well as its neighbours.”

A second view is more cautions and points to the many negative consequences of a military involvement in Afghanistan. These include the prospect of Chinese homeland and its personnel and assets abroad becoming a target of Islamist radicalism and terrorism,as Beijing gets sucked into the Afghan quagmire.

It also underlines the possibility of the ‘China threat’ theory gaining ground in the region and the world,and points to likely large scale casualties among the Chinese troops deployed in Afghanistan. It therefore argues that China should stick to “purely diplomatic and humanitarian” contributions to

Afghan stability.

A third view underlines a middle path. It suggests sending Chinese police and paramilitary forces into Afghanistan rather than the army. Such an approach would increase Chinese role in Afghanistan as well as signal Beijing’s commitment to regional security.

Its emphasis on sending police and paramilitary is circumscribed by a number of caveats. “China should not send police to aid the war in Afghanistan,or to help to search Osama bin Laden in the remote mountains. Instead,they should be sent to help the Afghan government to safeguard the construction projects aided or invested by the Chinese government.” The analysis adds that “the Chinese government should first of all get the permission from their Afghan counterparts”.

Working with Pak

Delhi will find it interesting that the Chinese debate is now pointing to the benefits of Sino-Pak strategic coordination in Afghanistan. One view suggests that “any joint action between China and Pakistan relating to Afghanistan will be a natural outgrowth of their many decades of strategic partnership. It will be welcomed by many people in both China and Pakistan and will be more acceptable to the Afghan people.”

Another view underlines that “China,which shares a common border with both Afghanistan and Pakistan and enjoys close and strategic relations with Pakistan,is one of the few countries,if not the only one,which can substantively help to make a major difference in the Afghan status quo.”

Partnership with Pakistan,of course,is only one element that has already positioned Beijing as a powerful future player in Afghanistan. If and when the United States starts reducing its footprint in Afghanistan,the Sino-Pak partnership would become a powerful force in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Meanwhile,China is stepping up its contact with all the other sub-regional forces in western and northern Afghanistan,besides cultivating strong bonds with the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul.

Even before it draws down its military forces,Washington is already pressing Beijing to take more responsibilities in Afghanistan. Whatever move that China makes towards Afghanistan in the next year will be hailed by all as a big favour to regional security and stability. As the world welcomes a larger Chinese role in Afghanistan,Delhi might be tempted to sulk. Isn’t it smarter for India to initiate a dialogue with China on Afghanistan instead of simply objecting to it?

Digging the past China’s archaeologists say they have found a nearly 1,800-year-old tomb belonging to the legendary ruler Cao Cao,who is known for his tyranny as well as military acumen. The archaeological discoveries in China during the recent years have been at once dramatic and

unending. If the Indian political classes can’t stop fighting over the past,the Chinese communists are investing

massively in discovering and salvaging it.

The writer is Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress,Washington DC.

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