Washington still lacks any viable strategy for ending the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan outside of a last ditch bid to strike a Faustian bargain with Taliban contacts in Doha. Beijing, on the other hand, appears to have a workable regional solution that can bring stability and prosperity to Afghanistan if the United States can simply get out of the way.
In recent weeks, the brain trust at the U.S. State Department tapped failed neoconservative diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad to negotiate with elements of the Taliban who are probably not even empowered to speak on behalf of most insurgents on the ground. Moreover, Khalilzad’s track record includes installing U.S. puppet Hamid Karzai as president, against the will of the Afghan people, which opened the door for a Taliban post-9/11 comeback.
The good news is there are other foreign powers offering more promising options.
On Saturday, December 15, the top diplomats of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China convened for trilateral talks in Kabul aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict which would lay the groundwork for postwar economic development, according to Xinhua News, China’s official state-run press agency.
Towards that objective, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cooperate on counterterrorism.
In a press briefing after the proceedings, Wang said the three sides vowed to strengthen coordination on pushing the Taliban to the negotiating table. They also agreed to promote the construction of the Chinese-proposed Belt and Road Initiatives to boost regional connectivity. In addition, Wang said Beijing and Islamabad hope to help Afghanistan exploit its geographical advantages through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The Chinese foreign minister also said Beijing will do its utmost to build trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
China’s recent diplomatic maneuvers have rattled some onlookers in the United States, including former U.S. military officer and commentator Lawrence Sellin. Ahead of the talks, in a piece published in The Daily Caller – a conservative right-wing news site – Sellin in an ominous tone predicted how the diabolical “Chinese-Pakistani plan” will unfold.
“Pakistan will withdraw its support of the Taliban and joint Chinese-Pakistani counterterrorism forces will eliminate the remaining Taliban from Afghanistan, for which joint exercises are already underway while solidifying a pro-Pakistani/pro-Chinese government in Kabul,” Sellin said. “Together with Pakistan, Iran, Russia and Turkey, China will become a mediator to end the Afghan War.”
As part of the deal, Sellin predicted, Kabul will call on the U.S. to withdraw troops in exchange for allowing Afghanistan to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a basis for Afghan reconstruction and development.
So, where is the problem? In Western eyes, of course, the future scenario is nightmarish. Sellin goes on to speculate that Beijing – after economically subjugating South Asia – will establish bases in Pakistan to control vital sea lanes in the northern Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf while linking bases in Djibouti with those in the South China Sea to isolate India. Sellin then describes, rather accurately, Washington’s lack of a solution.
“Focused narrowly on enticing the Taliban to the negotiating table, the U.S. government appears to have no strategy to counter the China-Pakistan plan to dominate South Asia,” the former U.S. military official added.
If we assume Sellin is correct, even the worst-case scenario still seems better than the status quo. If Beijing promises to check India, Islamabad would no longer feel the need to control Afghanistan for purposes of strategic depth, which means it would no longer need the Taliban as an extended expeditionary force.
As a result, Afghanistan would participate in regional development projects, transforming the country’s historically unfortunate geographic location into a long-term strategic asset.
Yet the solution will only work if the United States can overcome its imperialistic instincts in exchange for long-term security. This is unlikely because the U.S. will want to keep Afghanistan as a sort of vassal state to spy on adversaries in the region.
It is reasonable to be concerned that more external interference could undermine an “Afghan-led” peace process, however, this might be delusional thinking, for the sell-outs in Kabul have formed a ruling coalition with extremists and warlords who take marching orders from Washington anyway. The process has never been Afghan-led and under current conditions it never will be.
Now, replacing U.S. puppets with Pakistani and Chinese puppets is not the answer. Pakistan, China and other regional actors should do no more than help create the conditions that will allow the Afghans to choose their own leaders. Sellin, however, is missing the point that Islamabad’s perceived need for a puppet in Kabul is directly correlated to Pakistan’s paranoia of India, which Beijing hopefully can help bring down to manageable levels.
And, as astute observers of history, the Chinese likely understand that in Afghanistan puppetry breeds instability. And stability is the primary thing the Chinese want (in addition to run-of-the-mill economic exploitation that they are doing to most countries on earth anyway including the United States).
The bottom line is that the odds for peace in Afghanistan are nil if Pakistan continues to support the Taliban. And the only player that has any chance of convincing Islamabad to do otherwise is China. Not to mention, we all know Pakistani authorities are the most “qualified” for finding legitimate Taliban representatives to negotiate with as opposed to U.S. diplomats who are spinning their wheels in Qatar.
The United States has the luxury of being surrounded by two oceans with no threat to the north and whose biggest threat to the south is a migrant caravan. Hence, it is easy for policymakers and experts based in the United States, half a world away, to push a destructive agenda in Afghanistan while countries in the region have to live with the resulting mess. God forbid they try to clean it up.