China, Pak may include Afghanistan in $57b economic corridor
BEIJING, Dec 26, (Agencies): Ministers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and China met in Beijing on Tuesday where they agreed to work together to tackle the threat of terrorism tied to China’s vast western Xinjiang region. The first trilateral meeting of foreign ministers from the countries comes as China steps up its investment in its neighbouring nations as part of its trillion-dollar One Belt One Road investment initiative.
China depends on Afghanistan and Pakistan to help control Xinjiang’s borders, where analysts say Beijing’s repressive policies have engendered riots and terrorist attacks by members of the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority that calls the area home, although China disputes the claim. Beijing regularly accuses exiled Uighur separatist groups such as the shadowy East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of orchestrating attacks in resource-rich Xinjiang and other parts of China. It has expressed concern about Uighur militants finding sanctuary in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We agreed to cooperate in fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and without any distinctions of any sort,” said Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani after the meeting. Afghanistan will continue its “resolute fight against ETIM and their support groups and networks, and overall counterterrorism cooperation”, he added.
China has long pushed the international community for support in addressing the problem, which it says stems from the infiltration of “radical” religious groups into Xinjiang. In response, Beijing has placed strict controls on religious practice in the region, turning it into a virtual police state, in a campaign that analysts say has enfl amed separatist sentiment. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said the three parties had reached complete consensus in fighting terrorism, adding that China would also “fully leverage” Xinjiang as a base for economic cooperation with the bordering countries. China’s Belt and Road infrastructure project seeks to revive ancient trade routes, including a massive overland network stretching through Xinjiang and neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan towards Europe.
China’s expanding economic presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan has also brought some terrorism related setbacks. In related news, China and Pakistan will look at extending their $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday, part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road plan linking China with Asia, Europe and beyond. Speaking after the first trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Wang said China hoped the economic corridor could benefit the whole region and act as an impetus for development.
Afghanistan has urgent need to develop and improve people’s lives and hopes it can join inter-connectivity initiatives, Wang told reporters, as he announced that Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to mend their strained relations. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan appealed to Taleban militants to join peace talks following a meeting Tuesday organized by China to mend strained relations between the two governments. In a joint statement, the three governments called for a “broad-based and inclusive peace and reconciliation process” following near-daily Taleban attacks in areas across Afghanistan. The three governments said they “call on the Afghan Taleban to join the peace process at an early date.”
Afghanistan and Pakistan are at odds over American and Afghan accusations that Islamabad is harboring some of the fiercest factions of the Taleban, which was overthrown as the Afghan government in 2001 by a US invasion. Those include the Haqqani group, which the US government has declared a terrorist organization. “Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to improve their relations as soon as possible,” said the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi. “The two sides unanimously expressed the point that they will not allow any party or force to use their territories to engage in the activities that would undermine the security of the other side.”
The talks reflected Beijing’s efforts to expand its political and diplomatic role in the region. Chinese leaders also are uneasy about the potential for militant activity in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Central Asia to spill across the border into China’s Muslim northwest. The Taleban have stepped up attacks across Afghanistan since the United States and its NATO allies concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. The insurgents have gained ground across several provinces and increasingly launch attacks in urban centers.