In an interview Hu Shisheng, Director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations said that, “The background to this is that we found that those in Xinjiang who seek independence and who even want to go outside to join the battlefield with ISIS and other terrorists, choose this route between China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and even Pakistan to the training grounds in West Asia. Consequently, in recent years China has dramatically enhanced its military assistance to Tajikistan. Recently, we decided to increase this kind of military cooperation with Afghanistan. We want to plug this flow between Xinjiang and Tajikistan and Tajikistan and Afghanistan.”
Dr. Hu stressed on establishing the new military “quadrilateral mechanism,” followed by the disruption of another quadrilateral dialogue on seeking political reconciliation in Afghanistan, involving China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “That mechanism has become dysfunctional more or less after the killing in a drone attack of Akhtar Mansour, the Afghan Taliban leader, in Baluchistan while he was returning from Iran. This has totally disrupted the whole process. Besides relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were going rapidly downhill.”The Chinese scholar said that the new military mechanism of the quartet was “open-ended”, and would develop with the evolving situation.
“The killing of Osama bin Laden was a benchmark, as it marked the Obama administration’s policy to scale down American presence in Afghanistan. Ever since, China has given more and more importance to its bilateral ties with Afghanistan. China has to plug the resulting vacuum because no one else would. This is necessary to secure OBOR. Then there are compulsions of safeguarding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Xinjiang’s stability is another big concern,” said Dr Hu.
He added that, “China has to find some way to achieve political reconciliation. Of course this is through Pakistan’s facilitation, but also unilaterally, as was evident when China recently invited some of the representatives from the Doha office of the Afghan Taliban.”
The Chinese researcher said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to Baluchistan on Independence Day speech has caused a “major disturbance at least among Chinese academics,” because of its regional fallout. “It signals a watershed moment in India’s policy towards Pakistan in the future. We cannot figure out what could be its result and consequences, but my personal hunch is that it could be disastrous for the whole region; for all the relations — especially between Pakistan and India, China and India, especially among the three countries. That is the real concern.”
Dr. Hu pointed out that China has increased its repnsibility in restoring stability in Pakistan, and the CPEC was a step in that direction. “I think the focus is now on CPEC. So whatever efforts, policies, approaches that can insure that CPEC can be a success story, China and Pakistan will do that, including how to deal with Afghanistan, and address the relationship between the civil and military establishments within Pakistan.”
On the China Pakistan ties the said that, “The intensity of the relationship between China and Pakistan has increased dramatically. Even the anti-terror cooperation has transformed into a new level.” He was asked why China did not consult India in advance about CPEC which would pass through what India calls Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), Dr. Hu said: “We are focusing on projects which are not in the disputed area. You can see the blueprint; there is not one single impressive project in the disputed area. We know quite clearly the costs and sensitivities involved.”
Dr. Hu said that the strategic objective of China’s pursuit of CPEC was not only to avoid the trade route from the ocean through the Malacca Straits, but to also impart economic and political stability in Pakistan. “Our real purpose is that by undertaking construction of industrial parks, the Gwadar port construction and establishing inter-linkages within Pakistan, we would be able to transform the internal structure of Pakistan, and even shift some of China’s industrial overcapacity into Pakistan.”
About Afghanistan he added that, “My personal understanding is that [Mr.] Ashraf Ghani had put all the eggs in the Pakistani basket, under the belief that Pakistan has the capacity and the resources to force Taliban to the negotiating table. But he neglected one very important aspect, that Pakistan is not a unified decision-making machine.” He added said, “So if Mr. Ghani engages with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, then Mr. Sharif may not have the resources and capacity to exert pressure, for example on the ISI.”