China-Pakistan Ironclad Friendship plays the pivotal role in Afghanistan

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Wang Li

China and Pakistan are not only bordered on each other but also entered world politics successively after the Second World War. In 1947, Pakistan won its independence and two years later, China declared it’s “national standing up”. Diplomatically, the two countries came to recognize each other in 1951 although belonging to two opposite ideological and geopolitical blocs in the Cold War. Yet, with the vicissitudes of world politics and the regional scene, the two countries have respected each core interest and common security concerns in foreign affairs.

Beijing and Islamabad came to perceive each other as strategic partners during the early 1960s. Since then, the two sides have enhanced the bilateral relations to the “ironclad” level referring to their strategic consensus and geopolitical dimensions. The joint project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will make it possible to connect China’s strategic outreach to the Indian Ocean while serving the sustainable development of 220 million Pakistanis and 1.3 billion Chinese.

On September 16, the top diplomats from China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan, also called the Quad of Eurasia, met in Dushanbe where the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held the annual meetings. India was present at the SCO, but it was not invited to the four-power dialogues which required the Afghan issue to be resolved through collective wisdom and efforts. As Afghanistan’s neighbors, they have vowed to support a good healthy scene for the Afghan people and an open and inclusive political structure with different ethnicities and religions in Afghanistan. To demonstrate the supports to the Taliban, the embassies from the Eurasian Quad in Kabul are the only four diplomatic missions that remain open since the Taliban regained power on August 15.

The Afghanistan question has been one of the thorniest issues in the world and region. China and Pakistan have consulted closely and cooperated effectively since the 1990s. Considering the shared borders, cultures, ethnics, and geopolitical concerns, Pakistan has been more involved in Afghanistan for decades even during the Soviet invasion of the country. As a result, it was invited along with the United States and the Soviet Union to participate in the 1988 agreement that required the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan which was assured to return to normalcy. With the triumphal entry of the Taliban into Kabul, it is widely opined that Pakistan has been the driving force behind the Taliban, and China has been cooperative with its “ironclad brother” in dealing with the Afghanistan question. As one top leader of Pakistan once said, “China is a very important friend and trustworthy partner in development.”

Now with the Taliban in reality controlling the country, China and Pakistan have vowed to strengthen the strategic dialogue bilaterally and also through the SCO generally and Russia and Iran particularly as aforementioned. The reasons are well-noted. First, as the Taliban is anxious to show that since the scene is normal now in Afghanistan, it continues to rely on its long-term partner like Pakistan and now China. As the United States and its allies have thwarted aid to Afghanistan and placed economic sanctions, the Taliban expect China and Pakistan along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia to provide more urgent assistance and humanitarian aid. As aforementioned, the Pakistan embassy in Kabul has been issuing visas while its national carrier, PIA, has been flying between the two capitals to evacuate not just Pakistani citizens but others too. The international society including some Western countries has appreciated Pakistan’s support in terms of evacuation efforts.

Second, Pakistan definitely plays a pivotal role in support of an inclusive government in Kabul. It includes the constructive role in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan in August 2021 and also its approach to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to host an emergency meeting on the situation in Afghanistan. In reality, Pakistan acts as a key regional power in South Asia with a view to improving its image on the global stage. Considering the uncertainties in Afghanistan, regionally and globally, Pakistan needs to work with the SCO en bloc and particularly China, Russia, and Iran to persuade all Afghan stakeholders to achieve the common end of rebuilding a peaceful, stable, neutral and prosperous country. Now the immediate challenge, except consolidating power, is to avert an economic collapse because foreign currency assets have been frozen by the U.S., and funding from the IMF and the World Bank is also suspended. Likely, the financial crunch is compounding a humanitarian crisis. Only international recognition will be essential for the Taliban to access funds and assistance to keep the economy afloat.

Third, both China’s and Pakistan’s leaders share the international view that the Taliban must not let Afghan soil be used as a safe haven for exporting terrors. Yes, all of Afghanistan’s neighbors are worried about any spill-over of instability. China sees a threat from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, Russia from ISlL-K, and Central Asian states from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. All have stakes in Afghanistan’s stability and believe in engaging its new rulers. The future of Afghanistan rests principally on whether the Taliban can govern.

This paper concludes that regarding the Sino-Pakistan relations, the friendship does not just exist between the ruling elites but also at the grassroots level. Accordingly, the two countries have perceived each other as good neighbors and strategic partners in the term of “ironclad brothers”. In addition, Beijing and Islamabad have shared a vital interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Having borne the brunt of four decades of war and foreign military interventions in Afghanistan, which left the country with 3m refugees, destabilized its border areas, and set back economic development, China and Pakistan have the most to gain from peace. An unstable western frontier only adds to Pakistan’s security anxieties given continuing tensions on the eastern front with India.

The writer is a Professor of diplomacy & IR studies, Jilin University; a Research Fellow at the Centre for Global Security & Governance, University of Aberdeen.

 

*Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of the magazine.

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