Relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and China have not always been smooth. The United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, the tumultuous relationship between Pakistan and the Afghan government, and India’s repeated attempts to sow discord into the region have often left the three neighbours in a precarious position and unable to reap the many benefits that a good working relationship between the three countries could bring.
In this context, the trilateral dialogue that took place between Chinese, Afghan and Pakistani officials this weekend holds promise. The third round of China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue took place in Islamabad this Saturday, where the three sides “agreed on a list of initial projects of enhancing counterterrorism cooperation”. This meeting and the subsequent agreement are a step towards working towards the implementation of the trilateral MoU on “Cooperation in Counterterrorism”, which had been signed by all three parties last year in Kabul.
The fact that this initiative was furthered, one year later, is a good sign that this trilateral relationship can be sustained. All three countries stand to benefit immensely from a partnership. With the United States’ impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Afghan government will have to step up and make allies with neighbouring powers to get the country back on track. The strategic geographical location of all countries is an asset which, if they come together, can shift the dynamics of the region. From Kazakhstan to Tajikistan and other regional countries, this is a potential bloc of so many countries that can benefit mutually.
Yet the success of this trilateral relationship is contingent upon peaceful relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, something which has been a struggle in the past. Past relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been mired with suspicion and hostility, aided by India’s interference. The Afghan government will have to set aside its anti-Pakistan bias and extend a hand, for its own sake.