By Zhang Jiadong
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Recently, it was reported that Beijing had invited a Taliban delegation to visit China. The story has captured widespread attention. The role China plays in Afghanistan has since become a heated topic.
Afghanistan's significance to China mainly lies in its geographical location, non-traditional security and its economic value. As the "Heart of Asia," Afghanistan is located in the center of Eurasia and has always been a gateway for major powers in Asia and Europe to enter South Asia. The country is weak and cannot pose any traditional security threat to other nations, but a chaotic Afghanistan has become a source of international drug smuggling and terrorism. The drug problems and terrorist attacks in China are thus connected to the turmoil in Afghanistan.
Economically, despite underdevelopment, Afghanistan's market is showing great potential and it has rich mineral resources. When it comes to the Afghanistan issue, China is equally divided between those who support active involvement and those who prefer keeping a distance. Yet as far as I am concerned, we should adopt a more actively neutral role to promote the country's reconciliation.
Looking back on the nation's peace process, although a basic consensus over peaceful negotiation has been reached by each party, the ruling forces represented by the US and Afghan government and the opposition parties represented by Taliban are well-matched in strength.
Meanwhile, the divergences within both sides are huge. In the end, what exactly to negotiate has not yet been settled. Moreover, uncertainties in the international community's Afghanistan policy have led to the country's current situation, in which the central government controls its capital, some big cities and the right to represent the nation globally, while local forces such as the Taliban control a majority of regions. Such situation will last for the foreseeable future.
Unlike the US, India or Pakistan, China has been devoting itself to developing a balanced relationship with each region, ethnic group and religious sect in Afghanistan. This is Beijing's advantage, but could also trap the country.
Since the US has gradually extricated itself from Afghan issues and the Middle East countries are busy in dealing with their own problems that have arisen, it is not wise to take a leading role in helping resolving Afghan issues for the moment. China can turn to a more active policy step by step.
Given China's geographic position, national strength and diplomatic traditions, maintaining a neutral and active role in promoting negotiations should still be Beijing's focus. As one of few countries that can stay in contact with every party in Afghanistan, China should hence utilize its position to bring together different forces in the country. It marked a good beginning that China hosted the Senior Officials Meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process and the fourth Foreign Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan.
Promoting peaceful negotiation should be the starting point of China's Afghanistan policy. Given that some nations have already given up on turning Afghanistan into their strategic outpost, the hope of solving the country's problems through peaceful talks is rising.
Economic aid is one of the most operable measures in China's policy toward Kabul. The dilapidated economy is one of the reasons that push Afghanistan into a vicious circle of clashes and turmoil. Therefore, we should not only increase our economic assistance toward the country, but also help boost its people's employment opportunities and actual income through investment, aid and personnel training, so as to curb the source of people who are about to turn to violence.