As ISAF prepares for withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 the future of the country will very much depend upon the ability of China and India to assume new responsibilities on the World stage and put aside conflicts of interest in terms of geopolitical perspectives. President Karzai has reiterated his ambition to “Emulate America`s democracy and China`s economic success’
China`s Xinjiang province and Afghanistan have a long history of trade through the Wakhan corridor, which is the two countries point of contact stretching for some 100 km. All future regional cooperation will be channeled through this area be it pipelines, transportation infrastructure or trade in the “gateway for Eurasia”, as part of China`s western development.
Currently China is doing what it does best in developing nations and investing. At the end of 2011 China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed an exploration agreement with the Afghan government for a joint venture to explore and mine three fields in the Amu Darya basin in the north of the country. In the South the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper have a copper mine at Mes Aynak. It currently employees around 500 Afghanis under the supervision of 70 odd Chinese Engineers but has yet to break ground, scheduled for early 2014. It is estimated the mine contains around 11 million of non-ferrous metal at a approximate vale of $42 Billion
In terms of aid over the last few years, India has committed $2 billion worth of aid to Afghanistan: most are infrastructure projects including a 220 km highway connecting Delaram and Zaranj (providing connectivity to Iran and Central Asia). Others focus on health and educational facilities (India is currently constructing and Agricultural University in Kabul). On Paper Indian companies are willing to invest a further 10 billion, including a proposed steel plant. These investments dwarf China`s current commitments of just $75 million in preferential loans however China will undoubtedly emerge as a large investor in the country. India enjoys historical and cultural close ties with Afghanistan, particularly amongst ordinary Afghanis and are culturally suited to interactions with Afghanistan, something the Chinese find more difficult.
However the issue is not simply financial but the ability of the Afghan government to use it effectively. The billions of dollars spent by the US have yet to realize significant national improvements in primary health care for example. Whilst there is a Confucius Institute in Kabul it is largely empty by comparison to its other Central Asian counterparts.
Security in Central Asia is inexorably tied up with the Afghanistan peace process and the future of Afghanistan itself will depend upon its prospects of economic integration within the region. It has a key role as a land bridge for transit, trade and connectivity in a Modern Silk road. A proposed Iran – China natural gas pipeline will very much depend upon stability in Central Asia and the ability to negate attack on the line by a potentially resurgent Taliban.
Long-term growth in Afghanistan will depend upon its ability to develop agriculture and exploit mineral wealth of which it has reserves of several trillion dollars. China`s role will be significant and taking a lead in the development of Afghanistan now will avoid years of potential turmoil both on its borders and domestically. China must do more, but finding the political will to embroil itself in the semi vacuum left by ISAF will require a new form of foreign policy. To date many have observed that China has simply benefitted by the relative stability brought by ISAF. China has no experience of deploying its military abroad to support another country however as long as the Taliban operates in Afghanistan, there is possibility for destabilization, civil war or that they will provide sanctuary for Xinjiang separatists, worse, active support. Perhaps the time for non-interference in the internal affairs of other states has come to an end as China shifts from a Mercantile power to a truly world power.
Facts and figures form 2nd CICIR (China Institute of Contemporary International Relations) Forum, May 2012.