Silk Road’ train to reach Afghanistan on Sept. 9

The initiative signals China’s intent to play a more important role in a post-NATO scenario.

The first cargo train from China is set to reach Afghanistan on September 9, signalling Beijing’s effort to consolidate ties with Kabul, as part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative along the ancient Silk Road.

The train left China’s eastern city of Nantong on August 25, to cover a 15 day journey to Hairatan, on Afghanistan’s border with Uzbekistan.

On the way, it is crossing the Alataw pass on the China-Kazakhstan border before heading into Uzbekistan towards Termez. From Termez, once the springboard of Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan, branch lines also head towards Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan towards the east, and westwards to Uzbekistan’s cultural icons—Samarkand and Bukhara.

The train would enter Afghanistan after the crossing the Friendship Bridge, that was built by the Soviets, on the Amu Darya, marking the boundary between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Subsequently, the railway has been extended by 75 km from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif, the third largest city of Afghanistan, and capital of its Balkh province.

The cross-border route over the Friendship Bridge has also been used as an important military supply channel for the international forces in Afghanistan as part of the Northern Distribution Network.

Analysts say the departure of the train signals China’s intent to consolidate ties with Afghanistan, as it grapples to establish to secure transportation links along the New Silk Road, linking Asia with Europe.

The decision to run a cargo train follows concerted effort by China to play a leading role in imparting political stability to Afghanistan, in tune with the scaling down of NATO forces from the country.

Observers point out that Beijing has decided to do so for three major reasons: securing the OBOR, safeguarding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and plugging support for separatists operating in the Xinjiang province.

“China is ultimately keen to see a political settlement [in Afghanistan], though we know that this is very hard to achieve because different countries pursue different interests. Besides, the Afghan Taliban still believe that they can win the battle through military means. Anyway, what China can do at this stage is to understand the ground realities,” says Hu Shisheng, Director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Earlier this month, China and Afghanistan held their first strategic military dialogue led by Gen. Fang Fenghui, member of China's Central Military Commission (CMC), and Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim, chief of general staff of the Afghan National Army.

During talks, Gen. Fang underscored that international terrorist activities had entered “a new active phase,” threatening regional security and stability.

He advocated “high-level exchanges, and deepen pragmatic cooperation in intelligence sharing, personnel training, military capacity building and other areas under the framework of the ‘quadrilateral mechanism’, so as to promote the continuous development of relations between the two militaries,” according to China Military Online—a website affiliated to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The quadrilateral mechanism at the military level on counterterrorism among China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan was established on August 3. Dr. Hu told The Hindu that China had already started training Afghan forces as well as supplying them with weapons, as part of growing military ties between the two countries.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 7:18:58 PM |

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