China Road is reemerging. China’s has invested interest in

China
Builds Military Base in                          Afghanistan

                                                      
Peter KORZUN

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The Afghan Badakhshan province shares a common
border with the China’s Xinjiang Uygur
Autonomous Region. There were
days when Badakhshan was part of the ancient Silk Road
linking Asia with Europe. The Silk Road is reemerging. China’s has invested interest
in the province. It wants it to be secure and is providing aid to rebuild infrastructure.

China
is interested in stable supplies of raw materials, which Afghanistan has large
deposits of, especially gold and iron ore to export.  Beijing is to invest
$55 billion to create an economic corridor going via
Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea. China is the Afghanistan’s largest trading partner able to make much desired investments.   According to
its “One
Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project, a big infrastructure is to be
built in Afghanistan and Central Asia. So, peace in Afghanistan meets the
China’s interests but there is little hope the United States can bring it.   After all, it has failed to achieve any
substantial gains since 2001. There have been surges and reductions, changes of
tactics and strategy, numerous reports on how to change the tide but the
Taliban is strong, economy is still in shambles with and drugs trafficking being
the only business thriving. 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 key actors, such as Pakistan, are in shambles.
Washington has recently suspended military aid to that country.   

The instability in Afghanistan threatens the OBOR’s flagship project –
the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Beijing is working hard  to improve the Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. It
arranged a tripartite
meeting at foreign ministers level in 2017. As a result, working
panels were established to promote cooperation in politics, military,
intelligence, and economy.  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.

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 bring together 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.

The
Afghan government officials reported
that China is to
build a military base in Badakhshan.
 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 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 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’s participation can make the crisis management process a real international
endeavor. 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.