China Builds Military Base in Afghanistan
The Afghan Badakhshan province borders the China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In ancient times, Badakhshan was a stopover on the ancient Silk Road – a thoroughfare linking the East to the West established in the days of the Chinese Han Dynasty. The Silk Road is being revived. So is the China’s interest in the province. It wants it to be secure and is helping to reconstruct infrastructure.
China needs raw materials. Afghanistan boasts significant deposits of them, including iron ore and gold, as well as other riches to become available if the nation enters a period of stability. Beijing is to invest $55 billion in Pakistan to create an economic corridor to link it to the Arabian Sea. China is the Afghanistan’s largest trading partner and top investor. According to its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project, a vast transportation infrastructure is to be built in Afghanistan and Central Asia. To do it, Beijing needs peace in Afghanistan- something the United States has failed to achieve since 2001. One year on, 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 with several thousand more to arrive. The US relationships with key actors, such as Pakistan, are in shambles. Washington has just suspended military aid to the country.
The instability in Afghanistan threatens the OBOR as a whole and especially its flagship project – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China is applying efforts to reduce tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Beijing hosted a meeting of the three countries’ foreign ministers in 2017, setting up a platform for improvement of the relations between Islamabad and Kabul. The three parties agreed to establish working panels in various areas, including politics, military, intelligence, and economy. Another round of tripartite talks at foreign ministers’ level is to take place this year in Kabul.
The situation in Afghanistan is directly linked to Beijing’s security as the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a Uighur nationalist and Islamic movement from China’s Xinjiang region, is involved in hostilities, joining efforts with the Taliban and Central Asian militant groups in that country. China has a 90 km common border with Afghanistan.
Russia and China share security concerns and step up military aid to Central Asian states. Both countries believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has a role to play in Afghanistan. Both are trying to build up a counter-terrorism network of regional states. Moscow and Beijing are motivated by their national interests, which coincide. As major powers in the region they are joining to promote security in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
This month, the Afghan government officials reported that China is to build a military base in Badakhshan. An agreement was achieved last month during the talks between Chinese and Afghan defense chiefs. China will shoulder all the expenses, including weapons and equipment, but the facility will be manned by Afghan personnel. No doubt, Chinese military instructors and other personnel will be there. The preparations have already begun. According to Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Xu Qilian, the construction is expected to be complete in 2018.
In 2017, the Taliban delivered severe blows against the Afghan government temporarily capturing Ishkashim and Zebak districts of Badakhshan. With the security forces stretched thin, the Afghan government could not 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, a deep blue metamorphic rock, 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 all 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 groups patrolling the Wakhan Corridor. A military base in Badakhshan is another big step on the way to further involvement. It’s only natural that China is applying efforts to stabilize the country close to its border. Beijing has a trump card the US lacks – the cooperation of Russia and Pakistan. Beijing represents the SCO, a large international organization comprising directly concerned states, such as Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan and the states of Central Asia. The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group’s activities were suspended in 2009 to restart last year upon the initiative of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Russia advocates launching the start of direct talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban as soon as possible. So does Beijing. Moscow is ready to host a conference on Afghanistan.
The SCO’s participation can make the crisis management process a real international endeavor with broad representation. It will diminish the role of the United States but boost chances for peace. The combination of security cooperation and diplomatic activities can open new prospects for the war-torn country.
China Builds Military Base in Afghanistan