China China’s interest in the province. Beijing

China
Builds Military Base in                          Afghanistan

                                                      
Peter KORZUN

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The Afghan Badakhshan province borders
the China’s province of Xinjiang. Badakhshan
was part of the ancient Silk Road linking the
East to the West. It was established by the Chinese Han Dynasty.  The Silk Road is being
revived along with the  China’s interest
in the province. Beijing has already started to reconstruct its infrastructure.

Afghanistan
boasts large deposits of raw materials China needs so much.  Beijing is to invest
$55 billion into the construction of an economic corridor to
link Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea. China is the Afghanistan’s largest trading partner and investor.   According to
its “One
Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project, a big infrastructure is to be
built in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Stability in Afghanistan corresponds to China’s
interests but there is little hope the United States can bring it.  After all, it has not achieved any
substantial gains since 2001. There have been surges and reductions, changes of
tactics and strategy, numerous reports on how to change the tide of war but the
Taliban is strong, economy is l in shambles with drugs trafficking being the
only business to thrive. So far, the Trump administration has not presented a
long-awaited strategy defining its Afghanistan policy, despite the fact that
there are 8400 American troops in the country. The presence will increase soon.
The US relationships with pertinent actors, such as Pakistan, are in shambles.
Washington has recently suspended military aid to that country.   

The instability in Afghanistan threatens the China-Pakistan Economic
Corridor – an important element of OBOR. China is acting as a mediator to reconcile
the   differences between the countries of the region.
Beijing is working hard  to improve the relations between
Afghanistan and Pakistan. It arranged a tripartite
meeting at foreign ministers level in 2017. The talks produced
working panels to promote cooperation in various areas.  Another meeting is  expected to take place this
year in Kabul.

The
East
Turkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighur
nationalist and Islamic movement from China’s Xinjiang region, is operating in Afghanistan. The militants gain
combat experience fighting side by side with the Taliban and other militant
groups. Beijing does not want the seasoned warriors to come back and engage in
terrorist activities on its territory.

Russia
and China step up military aid to Central Asian states.  They believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
(SCO) can substantially contribute into achieving peaceful settlement. Both are
trying to create a network of regional states. Moscow and Beijing are motivated
by their national interests, which coincide. As major powers they are working
together to promote security in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

All
told, the China’s interest is strong enough to justify military engagement beyond
its borders. The Afghan government officials reported
that China is to
build a military base in Badakhshan.  The discussions
on the location and further technicalities for the base are
to start soon. The weapons and equipment will be Chinese but
the facility will be manned by Afghan military. No doubt, Chinese military
instructors and other personnel will come to carry out for train and assist
missions. The preparations for construction have already
begun.  Vice Chairman
of China’s Central Military Commission Xu
Qilian said
the construction is expected to be complete in 2018.

In
2017, the Taliban delivered serious strikes temporarily
capturing Ishkashim and Zebak districts of Badakhshan from the government troops. The
Afghan government failed to provide the military presence substantial enough to
ensure security. Before the attacks, an agreement with local field commanders had
been in place, giving them their share of 
 lapis lazuli production in exchange for peace. But
internal bickering undermined the fragile peace between the local groups and
the Taliban seized the opportunity to intervene. The Islamic State’s presence
in the province is a matter of special concern. 
It makes border security an issue of paramount importance for Beijing.

The
question is how far is China ready to go? Until now, it has limited its
military activities to special operations teams patrolling the Wakhan
Corridor.   A military base in Badakhshan is an important
move to demonstrate  Beijing is ready to
expand its presence in the country. Beijing has a trump card the US lacks – the
cooperation
of Russia and Pakistan. Beijing represents the SCO, a large international
organization comprising such actors as Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan and the countries
of Central Asia.  The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group’s activities were restarted last year upon the initiative of Russian president Vladimir
Putin. They were suspended in 2009.  Russia
advocates launching direct talks between the Afghan Government and
the Taliban as soon as possible. Beijing supports the idea. Moscow has said it is
ready to host a
conference on Afghanistan.   

The
SCO can make the crisis management process a real multilateral effort. It will reduce
the clout of the US but increase chances for peace. Security cooperation and
diplomatic activities can open new chapter in the Afghan history.