The Im­por­tance of the Is­tan­bul Process in Se­cu­ri­tiz­ing Afghanistan through the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor

The Diplomatic Insight - - News - Ed­ward Lai

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.

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