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Modi, Xi agree to work on a joint economic project in Afghanistan: Sources

The decision, that emerged at the end on the Modi-Xi summit in Wuhan, is likely to trigger reactions from Pakistan, which sees itself at the centre of any reconciliation process in the trouble-torn country.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2018 07:19 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Wuhan
Modi in Wuhan,Modi in China,India China ties
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk along the East Lake in Wuhan, China, on Saturday. (Reuters photo)

India and China will for first time implement a joint economic project in war-torn Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday at the end of the two-day informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping.

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No details were immediately available about the project but it was learnt from people familiar with the decision that the two leaders reached consensus on working together for the development of Afghanistan and its people.

This is probably the first time India and China will work together on a developmental project in a third country.

India has for long had a presence in the development sector of Afghanistan and has provided billions of dollars for building and refurbishing vital infrastructure such as dams and highways.

China is emerging as a key player in Afghanistan, largely because of Beijing’s security concerns linked to terror groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The path ahead for the India-China project will be diplomatically tricky as Beijing will have to convince its close ally Islamabad about it. Pakistan has always opposed any Indian presence in Afghanistan and has tried to position itself as the main player in any peace or reconciliation process.

China and Pakistan were part of a quadrilateral process along with the US and Afghanistan that was involved in trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Despite several promises by Islamabad, it was never able to get the Taliban leadership to commit to any sort of peace process.

While India’s leadership has never publicly spoken about involving the Taliban in a peace process, China has openly advocated a key role for the militants in talks.

China, for the first time, held a trilateral meet with the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan in December 2017 to narrow down differences between the two countries. It has also announced plans to extend its controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan.

In December, Pakistan’s proposal to establish working panels in politics, military, intelligence, economy and refugees with Afghanistan was supported by China.

“The three countries reaffirmed their commitment to pushing forward the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, calling on the Taliban to join in the process. China and Pakistan expressed support for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” official Xinhua news agency reported after the foreign ministers of the three countries met in Beijing in December.

This is not the first time New Delhi and Beijing have mulled cooperating in Afghanistan. In 2010, the two countries discussed collaborating in projects and joint initiatives in the country ahead of then prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China.

Then national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and foreign minister Yang Jiechi had discussed launching joint projects in Afghanistan.

Even during former foreign secretary S Jaishankar’s visit to Beijing, for the restructured India-China Strategic Dialogue, Afghanistan had emerged as common ground in discussions. Jaishankar had discussed the possibility of joint projects with Chinese officials.

At the end of the strategic dialogue, Jaishankar was quoted as saying that on Afghanistan, China’s policies were in tandem with India’s.

First Published: Apr 28, 2018 12:09 IST