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What China’s Diplomatic Push in Afghanistan Means for Regional Stability

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What China’s Diplomatic Push in Afghanistan Means for Regional Stability

China’s new ambassadorial appointment lays the groundwork for intensified cooperation between China and Afghanistan. That will have implications for Pakistan as well.

What China’s Diplomatic Push in Afghanistan Means for Regional Stability

Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Sheng presents his credentials to Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, Sep. 13, 2023.

Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

The welcome given to China’s new ambassador, Zhao Sheng, in Kabul on September 13 was marked by exceptionally elaborate protocol. Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi described Zhao’s appointment as a “significant step with a significant message.” Afghan officials see the arrival of this new envoy as a clear signal to other nations to step forward and establish relations with the Taliban-led government. 

Notably, China has become the first country to formally appoint a new ambassador to Afghanistan  since the Taliban’s takeover. While there are other diplomats in Kabul holding the title of ambassador, all of them assumed their roles before the Taliban’s ascent to power. In contrast, some countries and organizations like Pakistan and the European Union have dispatched senior diplomats to lead diplomatic missions under the title “charge d’affaires,” which does not necessitate presenting ambassadorial credentials to the host nation. China’s own embassy was run by a charge d’affaires until Zhao took up his post.

While Beijing has not explicitly indicated whether the ambassadorial appointment signifies a broader move toward officially recognizing the Taliban government, it does lay the groundwork for intensified cooperation between China and Afghanistan. This development holds significant promise for the region, as it strengthens China’s influence and leverage in the area. Furthermore, it could potentially help resolve the diplomatic stalemate that Afghanistan has grappled with since the Taliban’s ascent to power.

China’s growing influence in Afghanistan has the potential to foster increased cooperation, promote regional integration, and effectively tackle various obstacles, including security challenges. Since the rise of the Taliban, China has actively sought engagement with Afghanistan, demonstrating its commitment to supporting the country’s reconstruction and development. Over the past few months, Chinese enterprises have displayed a keen interest in investing in Afghanistan, signaling a proactive approach toward economic collaboration and stability in the region.

Pakistan stands to gain significantly from China’s increased influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also actively engaged with Afghanistan since the Taliban assumed power. Islamabad has also called on the international community to engage with Afghanistan to bring the nation out of crises. From time to time, the neighboring countries have also signed deals with each other to enhance their connections and cooperation. These agreements cover various aspects like border crossings, trade exchanges, and joint efforts against terrorism. 

However the security challenges stemming from Afghanistan pose a significant impediment to improved ties and regional integration and progress. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) using Afghan territory as a base presents a direct threat to Pakistan.

Given the close friendship between Pakistan and China, where the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) serves as the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative, any security threat to Pakistan’s stability would have ramifications for China. Simultaneously, instability in Afghanistan has far-reaching consequences, including spillover effects into Pakistan. This hints at the complex security dynamics around these states. 

Earlier, China has also issued a call to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, urging them to collaborate in combating terrorism and safeguarding Chinese interests.

China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have interconnected interests and goals. In a joint statement released in May following a meeting of officials from the three countries in Islamabad, they reaffirmed their commitment to leveraging Afghanistan’s potential as a central hub for regional connectivity. The nations reiterated their dedication to furthering trilateral cooperation within the Belt and Road Initiative, with a specific focus on extending CPEC into Afghanistan. The three states also agreed to combat terrorism, a common threat. 

Therefore, the deepened diplomatic engagement between China and Afghanistan assumes great importance for Pakistan and other surrounding states. China’s proactive involvement in assisting Afghanistan in maintaining internal stability and managing security challenges can yield substantial benefits for the entire region. By taking an active role in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan, China not only contributes to the well-being of the Afghan people but also fosters an environment conducive to regional cooperation and prosperity. 

China’s proactive involvement would open up opportunities for mutual benefit and shared prosperity. A stable Afghanistan will lead to a stable region, with increased cooperation and economic integration. Ultimately, this enhanced cooperation will lead to mutual benefits for China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as they work together to navigate the complex regional landscape.