The Importance of the Istanbul Process in Securitizing Afghanistan through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
The most highly visible and substantial investment expansion in the Central Asian region by China is the acquisition of control on Gwadar port in Pakistan. China Overseas Port Holdings Limited was able to purchase all the shares from the Port of Singapore Authority and its local partners under a deal approved by the Pakistani government on January 30, 2013. While some analysts have argued that China bought Gwadar Port shares after the Singaporeans the Chinese have major plans to connect the Pakistani coast to Xinjiang with the upgrading of the 1300 km Karakorum Highway. China has also invested heavily in the development of Pakistan Railways with the intention of building an international rail link to Xinjiang. To make the connection from Havelian in Pakistan to Kashgar in China requires crossing the Khunjerab Pass which is closed in the winter. An alternative route that is being proposed would link Chaman, Pakistan to Kandahar, Afghanistan through the Khojak Tunnel. If completed, this rail connection would eventually link Pakistan with Turkmenistan and then connect with the other Central Asian once these new trade routes are developed and there are also plenty of economic opportunities present in developing Balochistan, which is the poorest of the four provinces in Pakistan. However, insurgency remains a major problem in the Afghanistan and Pakistan border region and NATO forces will be needed to train the new Afghan National Security Forces. Even though China does not have a military role in Afghanistan, it is actively securitizing its political interests by working with all interested multilateral stakeholders through the Istanbul Process. Through the use of dialogue in the Istanbul Process and the securitization of Afghanistan, China can obtain the political capital needed to react proactively to During the inaugural Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in June 2012, foreign ministers from fourteen countries agreed The guidelines that became known as the Istanbul Process encouraged political consultation involving Afghanistan’s near and extended neighbours, a sustained incremental greater coherence to the work of various regional processes and organizations. The Istanbul Process represents the coming together of an American-led initiative to develop a “Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development”, of an enlarged Central Asia and a crossroad binding “the Greater Middle East” and “South Asia”. Before the 2012 ministerial conference, there have been a few unremarkable mechanisms for cooperation and development such as the Uzbekistan “6+3” initiative which included the six Central Asian states, Russia, the US and NATO. At the same time, the Russians proposed a Dushanbe Mechanism which included Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan along
with two three-party consultations of regional counterparts (China-Russia-India and China-Russia-Pakistan). It can be argued that the American supporting role in leading regional dialogue is critical in expanding practical coordination such as Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates are now ministerial participants in the Istanbul Process. The result of this annual foreign ministerial conference is a framework that seeks to place greater responsibility for Afghanistan’s security in the hands of its Central Asian regional partners. It has been the aim of the United States to shift the focus from military assistance to sustainable economic development in Afghanistan and drawing China into an active role in various multilateral groupings makes sense. US President Barack Obama’s Administration was less ambivalent about the virtues of greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan, particularly on the security side where limited offers from Beijing had been rebuffed in the past. Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, China was involved in the early initiatives proposed by Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke visited Beijing in March 2009 and was a part of the USChina Strategic and Economic Dialogue that was held in Washington in July of that year. Further discussions led to a as part of a larger framework in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue held in Beijing its regional partners. Outside partners who have played very little part in China- in March trilateral dialogue in February 2012, China also signed an agreement which allows for the training, funding, and the providing of equipment to the 149 000 strong Afghan police when security chief Zhou Yongkang visited the country in September of that year. In May 2012, China and the US jointly hosted a two-week training session for a group of some 15 young Afghan diplomats. While these actions are consistent with calls from the US and NATO for China to do more in Afghanistan, this stance from extreme wariness and reserve to active engagement shows that China wants to be a key stakeholder in the stability and development of Afghanistan. Even though China is initially concerned about the potential deterioration of Afghan security as it pertains to its national interests, a more proactive stance is required to ensure that political uncertainties are dealt with. The New Silk Road policy under President Xi represents a conscious effort in the securitization and the politicization of China’s interests in Central Asia in the name of security. This requires the development of a process-oriented conception of security and the use of extraordinary means in capturing the political audience. For Chinese foreign policy experts, an understanding of China’s interests and role in new multilateral institutions will help in identifying this constructivist turn in Wang Jisi, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, says that China has now made a grand strategic proposal. This would be that China shift(s) its attention from the heated competition in East Asia and rebalance(s) its geographical focus westwards to the vast area from Central Asia to the Middle East, the area from which the US is pivoting. Unlike in East Asia, common interests in economic investment, energy, anti-terrorism, non-proliferation, and regional stability allow the US and China be more cooperative in Central Asia. In this sense, Wang Jisi argues that the “march west” strategy of China will help recalibrate and build a “more balanced” relationship with the United States. The Istanbul Process is an ideal platform for the Beijing government to seek greater westward strategic depth nascent mining projects to be positive, China needs the stable presence of NATO troops training the Afghan National Security Forces in the short term. At the same time, the US and other western countries recognize that China can stabilize Afghanistan economically by allowing it to be a cooperative partner in building a more prosperous and independent country.