ChinaBuilds Military Base in Afghanistan Peter KORZUN Afghan Badakhshan province borders theChina’s province of Xinjiang.
Inancient times, Badakhshan was a stopover on the ancient Silk Road – athoroughfare linking the East to the West established in the days of the ChineseHan Dynasty. The Silk Road is beingrevived. So is theChina’s interestin the province. It wants it to be secure and is helping to reconstructinfrastructure.
Chinaneeds raw materials. Afghanistan boasts significant deposits of them, includingiron ore and gold, as well as other riches to become available if the nationenters a period of stability. Beijing is toinvest$55 billion in Pakistan to create an economic corridor to linkit to the Arabian Sea. China is the Afghanistan’s topinvestor and largest trading partner. According to its “OneBelt, One Road” (OBOR) project, a vast transportation infrastructureis to be built in Afghanistan and Central Asia. To do it, Beijing needs peacein Afghanistan- something the United States hasfailed to achieve in so many years. One year on, the US administration has notpresented a long-awaited strategy defining its Afghanistan policy, despite thefact that there are 8400 American troops in the country with several thousandmore to arrive. The US relationships with key actors, such as Pakistan, are inshambles.
Washington has just suspended military aid to the country. The instability in Afghanistan threatens the OBOR as a whole andespecially its flagship project, the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC). China isapplying effortsto reduce tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Beijinghosteda meeting of the three countries’ foreign ministers last year,setting up a platform for improvement of the relations between Islamabad andKabul. The three parties agreed to establish working panels to cooperate invarious areas, including politics, military, intelligence, and economy.
Another meeting at foreign ministers’ levelis to take place this yearin Kabul. Thesituation in Afghanistan is directly linked to Beijing’s security as the EastTurkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighurnationalist and Islamic movement from China’s Xinxiang province, is involved inhostilities, joining efforts with the Taliban and Central Asian militant groupsin that country. China has a common about 90 kilometers (approximately 56miles) long common border with Afghanistan. Russiaand China share security concerns and step up military aid to Central Asianstates. Both countries believe that theShanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has a role to play in Afghanistan. Bothare trying to build up a counter-terrorism network of regional states.
Moscowand Beijing are motivated by their national interests, which coincide. As majorpower in the region, they are joining to promote security in Afghanistan and CentralAsia.Thismonth, the Afghan government officials reportedthat China is to build a military base in Badakhshan. An agreementwas achieved last month during the talks betweenChinese and Afghan defense chiefs. China will shoulder all the expenses,including weapons and equipment, but the facility will be manned by Afghanpersonnel. The preparations for launching the construction have alreadybegun. Accordingto Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission XuQilian, the construction is expected to be complete in 2018. In2017, the Taliban delivered severe blows against the Afghan government temporarilycapturing Ishkashim and Zebak districts of Badakhshan.
With the security forcesstretched thin, the Afghan government could not provide the military presencesubstantial enough to ensure security. Before the attacks, an agreement withlocal filed commanders was in place, giving them their share of lapis lazuli, a deep blue metamorphicrock, production in exchange for peace. But internalbickering undermined the fragile peace between the local groups and the Talibanseized the opportunity to intervene. The Islamic State’s presence in theprovince is a special concern of China. Itall makes border security an issue of paramount importance for Beijing. Thequestion is how far China is ready to go? Until now, it has limited itsmilitary activities to special operation s group on patrol areas in the WakhanCorridor.
A military base in Badakhshan is another big stepon the way of involvement. It’s natural that China is applying efforts tostabilize the country close to its border. Beijing has a trump card the USlacks now – the cooperationof Russia and Pakistan. Beijing represents the SCO, a large internationalorganization comprising the states immediately concerned over the situation in Afghanistan,such as Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan and the states of Central Asia. The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group’s activities weresuspended in 2009 to restart last year upon the initiative of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Russia also advocates launching the start of direct talks between the AfghanGovernment and the Taliban as soon as possible.
It is ready to host them.TheSCO’s participation can make the crisis management process a real internationalendeavor with wide representation to diminish the role of the United States. TheChina’s construction of military base is a big step to contribute into crisis management in Afghanistan. Thecombination of security cooperation and diplomatic activities can open newprospects for the war-torn country.