by Raffaello Pantucci
An Afghan security personnel keeps watch at a road construction site, which is being built by a Chinese company, in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province November 19, 2015. REUTERS/Parwiz/Files
First published in Reuters, March 1, 2017
Stories have emerged once again of China’s military presence in Afghanistan. These reports come after China thwarted India’s attempt to get Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar added to the U.N. list of proscribed terrorist individuals, and China appeared to christen a new regional grouping after a meeting in Moscow with Pakistan and Russian officials to discuss the future of Afghanistan.
Seen from New Delhi, the picture could be interpreted as one of growing Chinese alignment towards Pakistan. In reality, these shifts mark the growth of China as a regional security actor whose views are not entirely dissimilar to India’s.
The main characterization of Beijing’s efforts in Afghanistan remains hedging. China continues to engage through multiple regional and international formats. Either through international multilateral vehicles like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the ‘Heart of Asia’ or ‘Istanbul Process’, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA); or through sub-regional groupings like hosting Pakistan-Afghanistan-China trilateral, bilateral engagements with India, Russia, the UK, Germany, the U.S. or Pakistan focused on Afghanistan (some including specific projects – like the American joint training programmes); or finally through Chinese instigated mechanisms focused on Afghanistan like the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG made up of Afghanistan, Pakistan, U.S. and China) or the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM, made up of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and China).