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China Expands Role in Afghanistan with Military Equipment Supply

Dr Raj Kumar Sharma writes: China seems to be hedging its bets on different stakeholders in Afghanistan. It is a close ally of Pakistan; it has channels of communication with the Taliban while it is also trying to strengthen the ANSF now.

China has yesterday sent military equipment to Afghanistan, signaling its desire to play enhanced role in security of Afghanistan by strengthening Kabul’s anti-terrorism capability. The assistance includes logistical equipment, parts of military vehicles, ammunition and weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces. Beijing will send another shipment to Kabul later this year which would include more military equipment and scanners for Afghan forces to help them detect bombs.[1] Such efforts have come up at a time when the Afghan peace process looks uncertain as the Taliban is currently boycotting the peace talks under the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) consisting of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US. In March 2016, China had pledged USD 70 million in fresh military aid to Afghanistan and also mooted the idea of a quadrilateral group (China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan) to address the issue of terrorism.[2] China has been concerned about the separatist movement in its restive province of Xinjiang and wants to deny any external help to the Uighur separatists. It has a vested interest in peace and stability in Afghanistan as an unstable and terror infested Afghanistan will hamper success of its Belt and Road initiative. However, since Pakistan continues to support Taliban, there is a question mark about the success of China’s new anti-terror group. Under President Xi Jinping, China is shedding its inhibitions and coming out openly to protect its interests abroad.

China seems to be hedging its bets on different stakeholders in Afghanistan. It is a close ally of Pakistan; it has channels of communication with the Taliban while it is also trying to strengthen the ANSF now. This means that its policy could change in future depending on who is winning or losing in the Afghan war. The Afghan government would definitely welcome China’s enhanced security cooperation with Afghanistan but they would also be cautious of China’s closeness to Pakistan, the main supporter of Taliban. That is why, Afghanistan has been arguing for a regional response to the Afghan crisis which should include countries like India, Russia, Iran and China. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization could be a platform where a regional response could be discussed and implemented.

Endnotes

[1] China Delivers First Batch of Military Aid to Afghanistan, July 3, 2016, http://www.voanews.com/content/china-military-aid-afghanistan/3402178.html

[2] China pledges over $70 million to support the Afghan military, March 1, 2016, http://www.khaama.com/china-pledges-over-70-million-to-support-the-afghan-military-0216

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