China offers to extend CPEC to Af at first trilateral dialogue

Beijing: China today offered to extend its ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan as the three nations pledged to step-up counter terrorism cooperation and not to allow any country, group or individual to use their territories for terror acts.

In the first meeting of its kind since the three sides agreed to establish a trilateral dialogue mechanism in June, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani and Pakistan counterpart Khawaja Asif met here and discussed issues concerning their interests.

Presiding over the meeting after his recent shuttle diplomacy, Wang said China and Pakistan would like to extend the USD 50 billion CPEC to Afghanistan after reaching “gradual consensus”.

He said China and Pakistan are willing to work with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan.

The three countries could reach a gradual consensus, tackling easier, smaller projects first, Wang said.

In his address, Asif referred to CPEC, describing it as a flagship project of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative but remained silent about its extension to Afghanistan.

“The successful implementation of CPEC projects will serve as a model for enhancing connectivity and cooperation through similar projects in neighbouring countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Central and West Asia,” he added.

Afghan Foreign Minister Rabbani, however, highlighted the importance of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and peace, without directly referring to Kabul’s oft repeated allegations of Pakistan’s support to the Taliban.

“We appreciate China’s sincere support to sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity as well as our peace and development efforts,” Rabbani said.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the talks the three sides reiterated their firm resolve to fight the menace of terrorism.

“They expressed their strong determination not to allow any country, organisation or individual to use their respective territories for terrorist activities against any other countries,” the statement said.

Observers say the reference to any country and organisation is significant considering that both Pakistan and Afghanistan accuse each other of fomenting violence in their respective counties.

The statement said the three sides agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism coordination and cooperation in an effort to combat all terrorist organizations and individuals without any discrimination.

“The three sides will communicate and consult on developing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Counter- Terrorism Cooperation,” it said.

It also called for the Taliban to be included in the peace process.

They reaffirmed that a broad-based and inclusive peace and reconciliation process, which is “Afghan-led, Afghan-own”, and fully supported regionally and internationally, is the most viable solution to end the violence in Afghanistan.

“In this regard, they call on the Afghan Taliban to join the peace process at an early date,” the statement said.

The three sides agreed to jointly work on political mutual trust and reconciliation, development cooperation and connectivity, security cooperation and counter-terrorism as the three topics of the trilateral cooperation.

China has stepped up efforts to forge peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan after US President Donald Trump announced a new South Asia policy blaming Islamabad for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India.

Trump’s South Asia policy giving importance to India and inviting New Delhi to play bigger role in reconstruction of Afghanistan has also raised eyebrows in Beijing and Islamabad.

The Foreign Ministers’ trilateral mechanism was formed after Wang s visit to the two countries in June as part of his shuttle diplomacy.

Asif also said it was agreed that peace and stability in Afghanistan was essential to realise the shared objective of development, deepening connectivity and economic prosperity.

He said Pakistan emphasised the importance of border management, return of Afghan refugees and intelligence sharing for effective counter terrorism cooperation.

“We look forward to a response to our proposal for the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for the solidarity and for early operationalisation of five working groups,” he said.

The second China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue will be held in Kabul next year.

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