At a May 2015 global forum in Beijing, former President Hamid Karzai had talked of high time to “recommit ourselves to peaceful conflict resolution, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of individual countries and non-interference. At the same time he applauded China’s push for the meanwhile household concept of One Belt One Road (OBOR). Drawing on Beijing’s experience in dealing with its neighbors, Krazai had suggested this Chinese approach could “help our countries rise above narrow interpretations of national security, rooted in multilateralism, dialogue and driven by the spirit of cooperation in an increasingly inter-dependent world. But the failure thus far of the various Afghanistan-focused processes – Heart of Asia (HoA), Quadrilateral Contact Group (QCG), the US-Indo-Afghanistan trilateral, and the Moscow Initiative, the latest of such efforts. Beijing too is now quietly leading a multi-tier trilateral involving both Pakistan and Afghanistan to help the two out of their current acrimony. Beijing realizes that without peace and stability in Afghanistan, the outreach and effectiveness of CPEC will remain limited. All these initiatives beg a basic question; can a bi-, tri- or multilateral process succeed when accompanied by conflicting geo-political interests of major stakeholders?
While Karzai and his successor President Ghani do verbally commit to the idea of multilateralism for conflict resolution and regional economic development, vested interest in Kabul, it seems, is working against those ideals.
The relatively low-level Afghan participation in the two Moscow conferences was perhaps an indicator for this. Both Moscow and Beijing had pleaded with Kabul to elevate the level of participation but in vain.
Can it be the reason why Afghanistan has not been invited to a OBOR conference at Beijing middle of the month? Leaders from around three dozen countries, including Prime minister Nawaz Sharif, are officially participating in the high-profile event.
Recent contacts between Pak-Afghan MPs and the military leadership may be encouraging but violence on the border has clearly dampened the optimism, and triggered questions about the possible motives. Chinese and Pakistani security experts at a recent workshop suggested that some regional countries may be instrumental in forestalling progress in the various processes that are currently underway.
The Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM) comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Tajikistan established two years ago to finding solutions Afghanistan’s security problems. Both China and Tajikistan, constantly concerned about the grave security crisis, worked hard for this mechanism but with little progress so far.
Similarly, vested regional interest, it seems, has stalled another initiative too; a trilateral protocol that China, Pakistan and Afghanistan negotiated for nearly six years. The first formal meeting of this mechanism took place in January 2015, followed by the second was in Dushanbe on 02 April, 2015. The one was supposed to take place in Kabul for signing of the protocol, but, say diplomats privy to the process, a month before signing the Afghan government, sent in new demands involving the inclusion of India in this protocol.
All other members requested to first sign this trilateral agreement and then work on the inclusion of other members including India. They argued that coopting India at this crucial stage would mean renewed negotiations which could take years.” The Afghan government refused to budge from its demands, with the result that the protocol hangs in the air even today.
As Kabul drags its feet on the transit protocol and other processes, central Asian states such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are pressing ahead for the success of another quadrilateral mechanism that includes both Pakistan and China. Their eagerness for partnership in the multi-lateral mechanism in fact flows from CPEC. Tajikistan and other republics are also keen pursuing the CASA 1000 initiative and are all looking forward to benefitting from the CPEC and this regional connectivity as well. So as a whole, all the Central Asian Republics, China, Russia and Pakistan seem to be moving in tandem as far as CPEC is concerned. Their unambiguous message to Afghanistan is; let us join hands in these regional mechanism for peace, trade and economic development. All countries are ready to help Afghanistan overcome its insurgency challenges. Only a regional commitment and involvement, and not geo-politics, can take the country out of its current security and economic crisis. Chinese experience, as underscored by former president Karzai at Beijing two years ago, serves as a good guide for simultaneously pursuing conflict resolution and economic/trade cooperation with neighbours. Outsiders can only facilitate but find solutions to Afghanistan’s internal problems. It rests in the hands of the Afghan leadership only. Upping the ante in the cover of blame-game – like the recent tensions- will neither serve Afghan peoples nor benefit the region.
The writer is Editor, Strategic Affairs