周波、赛斯·琼斯:中国是否会成为阿富汗最有影响力的外部力量?

来源:观察者网

2022-01-28 08:15

周波

周波作者

清华大学战略与安全研究中心研究员、中国论坛特约专家

赛斯·琼斯

赛斯·琼斯作者

美国智库战略与国际研究中心高级副总裁、国际安全项目主任

【导读】 阿富汗正在经历政治、经济和气候寒冬。联合国评估,2021年11月至2022年3月,将有2280万阿富汗人(约占阿富汗总人口58%)面临严重粮食危机等等。负责人道主义事务的副秘书长格里菲思说,“阿富汗处在令人震惊的需求和苦难”之中。 中美两国对世界和平与稳定负有特殊责任。2021年12月,美国著名智库国际战略研究中心(CSIS)“中国力量”(China Power)项目举行阿富汗问题辩论会。 主办方以“在未来两年内,中国是否会成为阿富汗最有影响的外部力量”为主题,邀请清华大学战略与安全研究中心研究员、中国论坛特约专家周波大校(退役)和CSIS高级副总裁、国际安全项目主任赛斯·琼斯博士分持正方和反方立场,就阿富汗面临的严峻局势、历史渊源、各方力量博弈、中美在阿问题上的不同立场和合作可能等,进行了充分辩论。该辩论通过CSIS官网和Youtube网站直播,获得近万名受众关注。 中国论坛和观察者网获得独家授权,翻译辩论会全文如下,供读者阅读思考。

林洋:早上好,欢迎参加2021“中国力量”辩论大会。我是美国国际战略研究中心(CSIS)亚洲安全高级研究员和“中国力量”项目(China Power Project)主管林洋(Bonny Lin)。感谢大家的参与,本次辩论会主题为阿富汗,辩题为“在未来两年内,中国是否会成为阿富汗最有影响力的外部力量”。

自美国撤离阿富汗后,中国采取了多项措施支持塔利班新政府,包括保留了在喀布尔的大使馆,与塔利班和地区领导人就阿富汗的未来举行高级别磋商,呼吁国际社会以理性务实的方式与塔利班合作。同时,中国已向阿富汗捐赠了100万剂新冠疫苗,并正加紧为阿富汗提供约3100万美元的紧急人道主义援助,北京还计划再提供价值500万美元的粮食援助。

2021年12月8日,中国援助物资抵达阿富汗首都喀布尔国际机场。来源:新华社

中国这些行动引发了关于其在阿富汗目的的重大争论。一些专家认为,北京试图将喀布尔纳入中国的地缘政治轨道,另一些专家则认为,中国希望阿富汗融入“一带一路”倡议,甚至希望能开发阿富汗的矿藏。

人们普遍认为,北京希望在国家安全问题上与塔利班合作,例如铲除“东伊运”(the East Turkestan Islamic movement)。北京视其为恐怖组织,是对新疆的分裂威胁。然而,也有人认为中国不会想在阿富汗获得重要的政治和经济立足点,因为该地区不稳定性强、中国在阿失败的经济合作项目不少,中国自身可能也希望与阿富汗保持一定距离。

今天辩论的主题是:“在未来两年内,中国是否会成为阿富汗最有影响力的外部力量。”请允许我介绍今天的两位重量级发言人。我们很高兴能邀请到他们进行辩论,两位将分别持正方和反方观点。

持正方观点的是清华大学战略与安全研究中心研究员、中国论坛特约专家周波大校(已退役)。周波大校1979年入伍,先后在广州军区空军司令部担任不同职务。1993年起,先后任中国国防部外事办公室参谋、西亚非洲局副局长、综合局副局长等职务。

此外,周波曾任中国驻纳米比亚武官、国防部国际军事合作办公室安全合作中心主任,他已发表了100多篇英文论文和评论文章。周波大校曾在新加坡香格里拉对话会和慕尼黑安全会议上作为解放军代表发言,同时也是解放军国防大学外军学员研究生导师。

我们也很高兴邀请到持反方观点的嘉宾,CSIS高级副总裁、哈罗德·布朗主席和国际安全项目主任赛斯·琼斯博士。琼斯博士领导着一个由50多名驻地工作人员和广泛的非驻地分支机构网络组成的两党团队,致力于提供独立的战略见解和政策解决方案,塑造国家安全。

他还在约翰霍普金斯大学高级国际研究学院,和美国海军研究生院国土防御和安全中心任教。在加入CSIS之前,琼斯博士是兰德公司国际安全和国防政策中心的主任、美国特种作战司令部指挥官和负责特种作战的助理国防部长的代表。在此之前,他是美国驻阿富汗特种作战部队司令部的一名计划官员和顾问。

非常感谢两位今天抽出时间参加我们的辩论会。现在,让我们正式进入辩论。首先,有请周波大校进行立论,中国为何会成为阿富汗境内最有影响力的外部力量。

周波:谢谢林洋,我在北京向大家问候。中国是否会在未来两年内成为阿富汗问题最具影响力的外部力量?这个问题很好。我们假设一下,如果不是中国,那还能是谁?美国已经撤了,俄罗斯在阿富汗的历史惨痛,其经济实力仅为中国的九分之一或十分之一。印度想掺和一脚进来,但塔利班与巴基斯坦关系密切,而后者拒绝印度参与,原因有两个,一是巴基斯坦需要借阿富汗获取战略纵深,二是尽可能减少印度对阿富汗的影响。因此,中国作为阿富汗的直接邻国,和世界第二大经济体,必然会发挥作用。

此外,我认为中国在阿富汗有两个其他国家不具备的独特优势:一是政治公正,二是经济投资。无论是在距今一千多年的中国唐朝,还是当下,阿富汗对中国的印象都不错。与那些远道而来的入侵者不同,中国作为近邻,从未侵略过阿富汗。即便是在今天,尽管北京尚未正式承认塔利班政府,中国仍然是少数几个在阿富汗保持使馆开放的国家之一。

然而,这不意味着中国对于塔利班有什么特殊感情,而是中国在阿富汗问题上的立场—无论在美国撤出前还是撤出后—始终一致,中国认为阿富汗问题不是地缘政治或大国角力的问题,更多的是关乎人道主义及人道主义关怀。中国同国际社会一样,希望塔利班政府成为温和、开放和包容的政府,当然,中国也希望他们能明确与恐怖组织一刀两断。中国尤其关注图谋破坏新疆稳定的“东伊运”,并希望塔利班能够信守承诺,不允许任何人或任何势力借阿富汗领土做伤害中国的事。

第二个独特优势就是经济投资,在中国国内,也不乏谈到阿富汗时“要谨慎,不要过于乐观”等观点,但我有不同看法。这已经不是中国是否要投资阿富汗的问题了,即使在战争期间,中国也一直以各种方式存在于阿富汗,中国是阿富汗的第三大贸易伙伴,仅次于巴基斯坦和伊朗。

中国是阿富汗的第三大贸易伙伴,仅次于巴基斯坦和伊朗。来源:维基百科

中国的产品在阿富汗具有很强的竞争力,中国的世界五百强公司,如华为、中兴、中国路桥、中铁、中国冶金科工,中国石油等都在阿富汗做生意,而且时间都不短了。此外,中国在基础设施建设和工业方面的能力首屈一指,对于一个饱受战争蹂躏、工业能力几乎为零的国家来说,这些都是急需的。

塔利班在官方声明中多次表示欢迎中国企业赴阿投资,甚至早在接管喀布尔之前,就承诺会保护中国在阿投资。安全问题肯定是影响中国大规模投资的关键,简单说,现在的阿富汗不是比战乱下的阿富汗更安全吗?当然是。

一个更大的背景是,中国的“一带一路”倡议在一定程度上与陆地上的“不稳定之弧”(Arc of instability)重叠。“不稳定之弧”从撒哈拉南部开始,穿过高加索山脉,最后到东南亚,而这正是中国“一带一路”倡议中“丝绸之路经济带”的轨迹。

此外,阿富汗也有中国需要的资源,例如价值1万亿美元的未开发矿藏,包括锂、铁、铜和钴等关键工业金属。2021年11月,五家中国企业的代表获得了塔利班政府的特殊签证,对潜在的锂项目进行了现场探察,这是中国企业进一步开拓阿富汗市场一个很好的例子。

“不稳定之弧”从撒哈拉南部开始,穿过高加索山脉,最后到东南亚。来源:GeoCurrents

当然,中国的长期战略投资计划之一是“一带一路”倡议,而阿富汗迄今为止,他们一直是这个巨大拼图中一个有吸引力但暂时缺失的部分。如果中国能够将“一带一路”从巴基斯坦延伸到阿富汗,例如修建一条从白沙瓦到喀布尔的高速公路,它将开辟一条更短的陆路通道,联通中东市场。

当然,中国虽有上述独特优势,但也不要指望中国来填补美国留下的黑洞。我个人不认为中国会是第一个承认塔利班的国家。但我认为,国际社会应该帮助阿富汗成为一个正常的国家,因为这最有利于实现阿富汗的和平与稳定,也有利于整个地区的安全与稳定。

如果塔利班政府瘫痪,阿富汗将陷入更严重的混乱。目前,形势已经十分严峻。这个冬天,将近2300万人,也就是超过一半的阿富汗人口,可能会面临粮食危机。这个国家正遭受几十年来最严重的干旱之一。联合国数据显示,阿富汗今年的小麦收成预计将比往年平均水平低25%。

那么我们应该如何解决这些问题呢?一言以蔽之,给塔利班一个机会,让他们践行自己的诺言。这是最现实的做法。为什么?因为目前阿富汗国内没有可与塔利班抗衡的政治和军事力量,因此塔利班政权将在未来很长一段时间内维持统治,除非其内部发生严重冲突。

如果塔利班政权能够稳定下来,内政外交政策也不走极端,那么对该地区的所有国家来说,承认塔利班政府只是时间问题,这是我们必须面对的现实。我个人认为,塔利班已经不再是90年代掌权时的那个塔利班,二十多年过去了,他们应该学到了不少,至少他们表态承诺开放包容,让妇女去工作,让女孩去上学等等。唯一的问题是,他们还没有完全兑现诺言。

现在来谈谈美国应该做什么?中美两国能做什么?以联合国为代表的国际社会能做什么?

美国虽已撤军,但它不会彻底离开阿富汗。首先,这是一个道义问题,美国在阿富汗留下了“永远的战争”摧毁了这个国家,美国不能就这样一走了之。拜登的口号是“重建更好未来”,难道美国不应该重建更好的阿富汗吗?白宫宣布,作为七国集团“重建更好世界”倡议的一部分,美国计划在1月份对海外基础设施项目进行首轮投资。但我看到的是,在美国副国安顾问达利普·辛格(Daleep Singh)“聆听之旅”的所有国家中,阿富汗不在其列。

美国代表团前往厄瓜多尔参加“重建更美好世界”(B3W)项目的“聆听之旅”。来源:美国国务院

其次,拜登政府必须争分夺秒地解冻阿富汗的流动性和海外资产,解除单边制裁,因为时间窗口正在关闭。据《纽约时报》报道,援助组织表示今年冬天可能有100万阿富汗儿童饿死。当我读到100万这个数字时,我想到了1994年的卢旺达种族屠杀。

据报道,那次屠杀造成80万到100万人死亡。不久我们就会知道《纽约时报》的的预估是否正确。哪怕是1000名儿童死亡,也比美国灾难性的撤军更丢脸,更不用说100万了!

这将是美国道德基础和道德形象的又一次灾难。当阿富汗人快要死去的时候,他们本该用来挽救生命的钱还躺在美国银行里,而美国政府根本不会把钱还给阿富汗人。纽约联邦储备局持有前阿富汗政府约70亿美元的资金,世界银行持有阿富汗15亿美元的信托,而阿富汗经济依赖援助,捐款覆盖了约75%的公共支出,国际捐助占其GDP43%。自塔利班接管政权以来,银行现金已耗尽,那些有存款的人也无法取钱,情况极其悲惨。

那么,中美能否通过双边或多边合作来解决这个问题?中美作为世界第一和第二大经济体,对世界和平与稳定负有特殊责任。在阿富汗问题上的合作,可能有助于缓和两国之间极复杂且竞争激烈的关系。

双方在阿富汗问题上事实上有很多共同点:中美都不希望阿富汗陷入内战,都支持“阿人主导、阿人所有”的政治解决方案,都希望塔利班变得开放包容。

2021年8月,中国外长王毅与美国国务卿布林肯通话时表示,中方愿与美国共同努力,推动阿富汗问题实现“软着陆”。“软着陆”意味着什么?就是让局势缓和下来。而让局势缓和下来的前提,是要给阿富汗输血。

既然阿富汗基本上是靠国际援助来生存的,中国因此呼吁美国解冻阿富汗流动性和海外资产,并解除单边制裁。美国副国务卿舍曼(Wendy Sherman)访华时提到双方可以在禁毒领域合作。这个提议很好,因为中国也是毒品受害国,而阿富汗生产了世界上约80%的鸦片。但是如果塔利班没有国际援助,不能从美联储拿回钱,那么毒品对于这个政府的生存就很重要,中美也就无法开展禁毒合作。

最后,中美能如何促进联合国安理会五常之间(在阿富汗问题上)的合作?我认为,五常应尽快进行磋商,对塔利班提出明确要求,作为解除制裁的条件。阿富汗问题不同于伊核问题、朝核问题,解决起来要容易得多。因为国际社会对塔利班的要求是一致的:开放、温和、包容。中国和俄罗斯的做法与美国、法国和英国的做法略有不同,但态度是一样的,因为要求相同。

既然我们态度一致,只是方法不同,那我们就能来讨论。例如,是否可以明确列出需要塔利班立即采取哪些行动?应该要求他们任命一些女性部长吗?应该要求他们让妇女去工作或让女孩去上学吗?

2021年10月10日,阿富汗巴尔赫省马扎里沙里夫,7年级至12年级的女学生迎来开学。来源:视觉中国

到目前为止,我听到的都是像这样的条件。我相信答应这些条件并没有那么困难。如果你告诉塔利班,这些是你拿回冻结财产的条件,我相信他们会立即同意。因为这些也是他们承诺过的。所以现在我们应该制定一些具体条件让他们遵守,我相信这是完全有可能的。我先说到这里,谢谢大家。

林洋:周波大校,非常感谢您的全面发言,不仅阐述了中国为什么应该对阿富汗关注,还就中国能做什么、美国能做什么、国际社会能做什么提出了建议。好,下面请赛斯·琼斯博士发言,然后我们进入辩论环节。

赛斯:非常感谢林洋的主持。也十分感谢周波大校非常到位的发言。在接下来的50分钟左右,我们将继续讨论阿富汗所面临的严峻局面。

总的来说,我认为今天这个命题有三个主要的逻辑和经验问题,我来一一列出。我先做一个概述,然后再深入探讨每一个问题。

首先,我认为关于阿富汗的历史清楚表明,其核心是一个中央政权薄弱的国家,社会政治基础分散。因此,从某种意义上说,重大的外国影响几乎是个理论上不成立的说法。我认为这一点上英国人、苏联人和美国人确实没能理解。

第二,由于阿富汗政府软弱,我们谈到塔利班及其权力和控制。但当我们走进阿富汗农村地区,部落、部落分支、宗族地区,就会发现,阿富汗一直以来并很有可能将继续受到多个区域力量和全球大国的摆布,后者将与各种当地代理军阀和强人合作,这就是不幸的事实。

第三,该地区所有大国之间将继续存在激烈的竞争。印度、伊朗、中亚各国政府、中国、俄罗斯和巴基斯坦都在争夺对阿富汗的影响力,这在许多方面将不利于任何形式的稳定。我这样说并不是因为我认为阿富汗的局势应该是这样的,而只是阐述事实。

如果非要指出哪个国家对塔利班和阿富汗有影响力,那就是巴基斯坦。因此,正如伊斯兰堡在过去30多年来所展示的那样,他们手里掌握着阿富汗的绝大多数“影响力牌”。因此,如果中国有机会对阿富汗产生影响,中国将会而且必须与巴基斯坦合作,通过巴基斯坦作为对阿富汗施加影响的主要渠道。

在联合国,巴基斯坦推动解冻阿富汗银行资产,以提振经济,拯救生命。来源:美联社

首先,阿富汗本质上是一个社会政治结构分散的薄弱政府国家,在这个意义上,影响力是一个有些矛盾的说法。大多数阿富汗人拒绝一个强大的中央政府主动干预其事务,我记得在阿富汗南部的坎大哈与一个部落首领有过一次谈话,他直接告诉我,我首先效忠的是我的家庭,然后是我的村子,再是我的部落分支,最后是我的部落。

他继续解释说,不论是卡尔扎伊领导的政府,加尼领导的政府抑或现在的塔利班政府,对大多数阿富汗人的日常生活都几乎没有任何影响。因此,认为阿富汗中央政府,更不用说像中国这样的外国,可以对整个阿富汗产生可观的影响力,我认为这个观点是谬误的。

从这个角度来看,甚至从人类学的角度来看,我们都误解了阿富汗的权力结构。阿富汗普什图人中约有三分之二属于吉尔吉部落或阿卜达里部落。在阿富汗的东部和东南部省份有较少数的卡拉尼部落的成员。

但如果阿卜达里部落,其中就有一些支持和反对塔利班的部落。例如,博帕尔扎伊人和巴拉克宰人一般是反塔利班的,伊沙克扎伊的一些人和诺尔宰的一些人一般是亲塔利班的。在吉尔吉人中,有一些亲塔利班的部落,如扎德兰人和霍塔克人,然后还有一些反塔利班的吉尔吉人。在阿富汗还有一些种族群体,其中许多人一般不喜欢塔利班,比如乌兹别克人、塔吉克人,当然还有什叶派的哈扎拉人和各种土库曼人等等。

这里的重点是,阿富汗的权力结构是非常分散的,所以这对我们今天讨论的话题有两个含义。一是这种局面将继续对塔利班构成挑战,因为走出省会以及一些地区中心,塔利班今天的影响力要么不存在,要么非常有限。

因此,塔利班影响该国正在发生的事情的能力也是非常有限的,在20世纪90年代就是如此,自911以来,阿富汗的各个政府亦然。因此,任何一个外国政府,无论是英国、俄国、美国还是现在的中国政府,对一个甚至没有强大中央政府的国家施加重大影响,我认为这个论点是需要大家再去思考的。

第二点,就是阿富汗薄弱的中央政府在历史上被该地区多个政府的竞争所填补,我认为这不利于任何一个大国对其产生真正的影响力。该地区的众多国家都向阿富汗的两个权力方提供着一些秘密援助,一方就是今天的塔利班,另一方是地方民兵、强人、权力掮客、商人等。

伊朗人在阿富汗西部有很大的影响力,包括像赫拉特这样的省份,阿富汗中部的哈扎拉人,以及一些我们经常称之为“北方联盟”的旧部,一些乌兹别克和塔吉克权力掮客。印度继续在一些北方联盟团体中发挥影响,那些在阿富汗北部省份和城市(如马扎尔、塔洛坎)活动的群体,印度情报机构30年来一直向这些地区的次国家行为者提供支持。

中亚国家的情况也差不多,塔吉克人支持一些塔吉克社区,乌兹别克斯坦支持一些乌兹别克社区。此外,很明显,巴基斯坦对塔利班和在阿富汗东部、南部和西部部分地区活动的其他普什图人团体也有重大影响。

重点是,有很多国家已经试图并将继续影响阿富汗,在这场博弈中,中国有许多竞争对手。可悲的是,像阿富汗这样政府薄弱的国家,给了其他国家各种插手的机会。

这就引出了我的最后一点,关于命题本身,我认为塔利班政权所面临的一些挑战与其获得外国援助或被解除制裁的能力关系不大。

第三点,如果要说哪个国家在阿富汗具有可观的影响力,那不是中国,而是巴基斯坦,正如我们在过去三十年中所看到的。

巴基斯坦与武装组织和其他在阿富汗活动的非国家行为者有着长期联系。正如巴基斯坦领导人齐亚·哈克将军在1979年对巴基斯坦情报局(ISI)局长阿赫塔尔·阿卜杜勒·拉赫曼中将所说:“阿富汗的水必须在合适的温度下沸腾”。这一直是巴基斯坦高级领导人历来的说法。

阿富汗与巴基斯坦相邻,如果巴基斯坦对阿富汗领导人,包括今天的塔利班没有影响力,那么巴基斯坦将面临一个双重挤压局面,这是我在美国政府担任公职时,巴基斯坦高级官员,包括三军情报局的领导人对我说的。

在一条巴印边界上,巴基斯坦必须处理它与印度的长期敌意,而在另一条巴阿边界上,在过去20年里,印度先是与卡尔扎伊总统,然后是与加尼总统有密切的关系。因此,巴基斯坦在过去20年里一直处于双重挤压之中。巴基斯坦西侧面临的压力现在有所缓解,它现在在喀布尔有一个盟友,这对巴基斯坦的战略纵深非常重要。

回顾历史也很重要,20世纪80年代,巴基斯坦的三军情报局向圣战者组织提供援助,七个主要的圣战者组织当时与美国和其他几个政府合作。90年代,三军情报局支持塔利班本身。

塔利班成立时,三军情报局就在那里,参与并帮助其在阿富汗和巴基斯坦边境周围的伊斯兰圣战学校招募人员。塔利班本身是作为一个极端的伊斯兰运动诞生的,来自巴基斯坦和阿富汗的伊斯兰圣战学校,由巴基斯坦支持。

因此,巴基斯坦对塔利班一直很有影响力,从一开始就对其产生了极大的影响。当古勒卜丁·希克马蒂亚尔在20世纪90年代初未能拿下喀布尔。当塔利班向阿富汗西部和中部推进,并最终进入喀布尔和阿富汗北部城市时,三军情报局的帮助在提供地面直接支持方面起到了关键作用,三军情报局和巴基斯坦空军的行动人员被部署到前方。

21世纪初,塔利班政权被美国推翻后转移到了哪里?没有进入印度,没有进入中国,没有进入中亚,没有进入伊朗,而是进入了巴基斯坦。他们的指挥和控制网络,也就是我们所说的拉巴里舒拉(Rabbari Shura),迁移到了巴基斯坦南部沿阿富汗-巴基斯坦边境的奎达及其周围地区。

这就是塔利班高层,拉巴里舒拉的主要委员会,从军事委员会到宗教委员会、财务委员会,都在位于边界的巴基斯坦一侧,同样是在奎达及其周围,塔利班高级领导人,首先在穆罕默德·奥马尔毛拉手下,然后在曼苏尔毛拉手下,然后在现任塔利班领导人阿洪扎达手下,把他们的家人带到学校居住。

2000年至2010年,甚至到2021年初,在塔利班继续在阿富汗进行政治和军事斗争时,巴基斯坦三军情报局特工继续向塔利班提供密切援助,他们参加高层会议,提供多种类型的援助。

巴基斯坦三军情报局暴露了穆罕默德·戈希尔·汗的踪迹。来源:ANI News

巴基斯坦三军情报局提供资金,用于塔利班前沿部署部队;他们提供情报,包括印度人、阿富汗政府、美国等方面活动的情报;他们提供物资,例如小型武器。他们为塔利班的车辆提供汽油和石油,从摩托车到卡车的所有东西,用于将武器带过边境。

主要的是,我认为巴基斯坦施加影响的最重要途径是庇护和支持。随着时间的推移,30多年来双方建立了密切关系,这种关系直到现在也很重要。阿富汗现在的内政部长,来自哈卡尼网络的西拉柱丁·哈卡尼与巴基斯坦和三军情报局的高级官员都有着令人玩味的长期关系,他还长期与基地组织保持着很强的关系。

因此,我认为没人能质疑巴基斯坦在过去30年里对阿富汗的影响力最大。即使他们未来无法提供最多援助,巴基斯坦将继续在一个他们帮助创建、帮助培养、帮助支持的组织中拥有最大的影响力,而在过去20年中世界上没有其他国家这样做。

世界上其他所有国家都与塔利班切断了外交关系时,是巴基斯坦在继续提供支持,在此意义上,巴基斯坦将保留最大的影响力。

最后总结,我认为最重要的一点是,当我们审视阿富汗的民族构成和历史时,我们必须认清,阿富汗的历史和社会结构核心是一个薄弱政府国家,也就是我们常说的地租型国家,他们是一个分散的社会政治基础。

而外国的影响一直是有限的,中央政府的影响亦然,这对塔利班来说将是一个问题,在过去的一个世纪里,这对阿富汗的每一任中央政府都是个问题。如果中国甚至巴基斯坦到现在还没有意识到这一点的话,他们应该尽快反应过来,因为这对英国人、俄国人和美国人都构成过挑战。

第二,由于政府薄弱,该地区每个国家将继续在阿富汗进行博弈,欧洲、美国和其他国家也将参与其中。这种局势将继续下去,我认为这将不可避免地削弱任何中央政府的权力,这就是现实主义的权力竞争平衡。再次声明,我这样说并不是对阿富汗局势应该如何的价值观声明,而是对阿富汗现状和历史的一种规范性表述。

第三,一直站在塔利班这边提供援助、了解塔利班领导人、与他们有私人关系的国家是巴基斯坦,我认为这种关系将持续下去。

让我再简单说几句,谈谈阿富汗所面临的挑战,以及美中合作的一些途径。阿富汗经济崩溃的总体原因,和它从世界银行、外国政府或其他途径获取资金的能力关系不大。

塔利班政府的内政部长哈卡尼。来源:CNBC

我认为有一些更大的挑战,作为对今天讨论的补充。内政部长哈卡尼是一个被认定的国际恐怖分子,根据联合国安理会的多个报告,他与基地组织有长期的直接联系。这一直是个问题,我认为这将是考验塔利班政府合法性的一个持续问题。

最近,一些跨国公司对塔利班没有明确透明的或公平的司法系统深表关切,塔利班体系是基于对伊斯兰教法的极端解释。由一个对伊斯兰教法进行极端解释的政治力量来管理国家的话,想要创造一个支持或有利于企业和外国直接投资的环境将是非常困难的。

我认为我们将继续看到外国公司的顾虑,他们希望在一个司法系统中运营,但这个系统目前几乎没有发挥作用,而且无法透明地调解纠纷。回顾90年代的塔利班政府,那可谓当时世界上表现最差的政府,无论是用世界银行关于治理、腐败、还是不良治理等若干领域的标准衡量,他们都是失败的。因此,我认为塔利班在治理方面会面临一些重大挑战。

但我确实认为,从积极的角度来说,在一些重要的领域,中美是可以合作的。在人道主义救援领域,我非常同意周波大校的观点。阿富汗人正在受苦。他们会继续受苦。其中一部分与塔利班政府的无能有关。

但这并不意味着阿富汗人应该受苦,国际社会应该对阿富汗国内流离失所者、难民和其他人给予支持,这是很重要的。打击毒品的行动是一直需要的。鸦片是阿富汗目前最大的出口商品,塔利班与毒品贸易长期关联,这是他们在过去20年中最大的收入来源。我们有必要继续与贩毒、生产、种植和贩运罂粟的行为作斗争。

阿富汗长期以来一直与毒品联系在一起 来源:BBC

最后,还是有必要继续打击阿富汗境内和更广大地区的恐怖组织,阿富汗正在成为全球恐怖主义的核心和中心。正如美国情报部门所警告的,我们已经看到伊斯兰国的袭击重新抬头,伊斯兰国、呼罗珊省(呼罗珊省是伊斯兰国在当地的分支机构)和基地组织,可能在2022年拥有对外行动能力。此外,有些团体,如穆罕默德军和虔诚军,以及周波所提到的极端维吾尔族团体在该国活动。

因此,阿富汗薄弱的政府,一个可能失败的政府,很有可能将成为国际和地区恐怖组织的安全避难所。我认为有必要在情报共享方面进行合作,然后对这些团体采取行动,在阿富汗问题上中美有共同利益和共同合作的途径。

林洋:非常感谢赛斯不仅讨论了阿富汗国内权力分散的问题,而且还讨论了巴基斯坦的影响,最后谈及了周波大校提供的建议。现在让我再次邀请周波大校,请他来回应赛斯的论点,或补充自己的立论。

周波:谢谢林洋,谢谢琼斯博士。我很高兴你在演讲结束时谈到了中美可以并如何在诸多方面进行双边合作,我更高兴你提到了反恐情报合作。实际上,我之前漏讲了一点,我们还可以共同帮助阿富汗进行文化保护,比如历史遗迹。这些领域都是毫无争议的,也是有用的。

但对你所说的中国最有可能通过巴基斯坦影响阿富汗的说法,我有不同看法。是的,我不这么认为。你详细解释了巴基斯坦如何影响喀布尔,这我完全同意。但毋庸置疑的是,中国能提供很多伊斯兰堡无法提供的东西。

例如,中国是一个大国,是联合国安理会五常之一。在政治上,中国都有能力推动解除制裁,以及与安理会其他四个常任理事国进行其他协商,而这都不是巴基斯坦能帮得到的。

2017年5月,人们在肯尼亚蒙巴萨庆祝蒙内标轨铁路的开通。来源:人民日报

在经济上,中国也可以极大地帮助阿富汗,中国是基础设施建设能力最强的国家,也是世界上最大的工业国家。因此,在所有这些方面,中国都可以极大地帮助阿富汗。

关键的是,中国在帮助阿富汗的时候没有自己的特殊利益,我们绝不会把阿富汗作为傀儡对待。中国与历史上所有的侵略者不同的是,所有这些侵略者都是带着枪弹来的,而中国是带着造路建桥的蓝图来的。谁不想要造好路?谁不想要建大桥?这些东西一定会受到阿富汗所有人的欢迎。

还有一点我也不同意,如果阿富汗破产了,你说这与国际援助没有太大关系,我确信拜登政府负有重大的道德责任,但拜登政府会发现自己处境极度艰难。如果阿富汗人正在死亡,而阿富汗人的钱却在你手里,那么人们可以自然得出阿富汗人因你而死的结论。

美国为什么不把钱还给他们?而是眼睁睁地看着他们死?这就是我所说的再生灾难,这比美国从阿富汗撤军的灾难后果更严重。这就是为什么我们需要尽快解决这个问题,时不我待,我们必须抓紧行动。

林洋:谢谢周波大校激情洋溢的思辨,现在我们有请赛斯进行快速反馈,然后进入问答环节。

赛斯:毫无疑问,包括中国在内的很多国家都可以向阿富汗提供援助。回顾阿富汗的历史,在过去20年里,我们可以看到日本、韩国、美国、欧洲提供援助。这会持续下去。中国在很多方面会提供一些帮助。但坦率地说,我们没有看到中国提供大量的援助,更达不到过去20年美国在道路建设、卫生健康等方面数十亿美元的捐助水平。

我想指出的是,如果我们看看过去20年的一系列指标,阿富汗的社会状况要比1990年代好得多。多亏了大量国际援助,阿富汗卫生健康状况从1990年代开始明显好转,教育得到改善,识字率明显提高。如果看国际货币基金组织和世界银行的数据,阿富汗在经济、卫生、教育领域都得到了显著改善。

这要归功于体量很大的国际援助。而中国到目前为止还没有表现出提供任何接近这些援助体量的意愿,我也不确定中国会不会愿意提供。这意味着想要阿富汗至少维持目前的卫生和教育的关键指标,需要做两件事:

第一,不仅是中国,多国政府都需要提供援助,尤其是人道主义援助。我再强调一遍,我们的确看到中国说要提供援助,但还没有看到它实实在在出很多钱。第二,我认为很重要的是,即使有国际援助,我们已经发现塔利班治理的一些重大问题。我们看到阿富汗各地发生有针对性的暗杀,阻止妇女和妇女工作的运动。

1月10日,在阿富汗北部法里亚布省,当地居民领取中国政府提供的人道主义援助物资。来源:新华社

这些将对经济产生重大影响。我们没看到任何形式的成文司法系统,得以让企业在阿富汗正常运作。此外,塔利班政权,包括其内政部长,和一个外国恐怖组织—基地组织关系非常密切。这些都将是无法解决的大问题。我认为周波大校低估了塔利班在有效治理方面的能力和问题的严重性,所以,解冻阿富汗的国际资金无济于事。

正如我们所看到的阿富汗政府内阁中,没有女性高官,几乎没有专业人士。理国家的是在过去20年中没有任何政府管理经验的宗教领袖。

如果想重建阿富汗,关键不在于解冻国际资金,而是在于塔利班建立治理能力。阿富汗因为有着薄弱中央政府的历史,建立有效的治理将是塔利班所面临最大的挑战。这和解冻世界银行、国际货币基金组织、美国和欧洲的资金无关。我认为最大挑战是建立一个有效的政府系统。

换句话说,归根结底,我认为外国影响力与其提供的资金数量无关。毫无疑问,中国能比巴基斯坦向阿富汗提供更多的资金。但现实是,塔利班高级领导人与巴基斯坦之间有着深厚的历史和现实联系,这就是现状。

每一位现任塔利班领导人,他们过去20年里都住在哪里?他们的孩子在哪里长大?一直都在巴基斯坦,而巴基斯坦拥有大量支持阿富汗的普什图人。

所以我认为现实情况是,现在是伊斯兰堡政府信任塔利班,确认塔利班的合法性,并予以支持和理解,而不管塔利班政府运作地多么糟糕。80年代是如此,90年代是如此,新世纪以来亦是如此,我们已经见证了40年来巴基斯坦成功地影响着阿富汗。

我认为除了巴基斯坦,没有任何国家能强有力地影响阿富汗,不然就是误解了阿富汗、该地区以及塔利班内部的权力动态。

让我再次回到核心问题,以上问题都不应阻挠我们在阿富汗寻找合作。我曾公开辩称,美国离开阿富汗是一个错误。我认为美国未来不提供额外援助也是错误的。美国可以也应该与中国以及该地区其他政府进行多方法和多领域的合作,比如人道主义、反毒、甚至反恐等大家共同关心的领域。

林洋:现在让我们进入问答环节。我先向周波大校提一个问题:之前赛斯提到了阿富汗境内出现恐怖组织的报道很多,我们也看到伊斯兰国呼罗珊分支(ISIS-K)越来越多地来针对中国。今年10月,我们看到一名“伊斯兰国呼罗珊分支自杀式袭击者”在阿富汗的一座清真寺炸死60人,我想了解你对这一信息在北京引起的反应,这可能会对中国参与阿富汗事务的意愿产生怎样的影响?

“伊斯兰国呼罗珊分支自杀式袭击者”在阿富汗的一座清真寺炸死60人。来源:ABC

周波:这是一个非常好的问题。正如我刚才的回答一样,我想先回应一下琼斯博士。基本上,这不是一个我们多么喜欢塔利班的问题。而是因为现在他们已经掌权,不管大家喜欢与否,现在没有其他政治力量能够去推翻塔利班。我理解你所说的喀布尔与伊斯兰堡关系有多铁,这一点我完全没有异议。

关于林洋的问题,阿富汗有“东伊运”(ETIM),这就是为什么我们希望塔利班去遏制那些反华恐怖组织。实际上这些恐怖分子通过中阿边境的瓦罕走廊潜入中国的几率很小,因为地理环境异常恶劣,中阿边境地势陡峭,阿富汗人从中阿边境进入到中国一侧非常非常困难。

但正如我刚才所举的例子,整个“东伊运”仍然可能蔓延到中国。所以我们对阿富汗政府的态度是非常明确的,因为这是中国的核心关注。因为这些恐怖组织人数有限,实际上只有几百个,所以塔利班政府应该有充分的能力控制甚至完全消灭这些人。

林洋:我看到有几个中巴关系问题要问赛斯,也许我可以先问赛斯,然后如果周波大校想补充的话可以进行发言。大家普遍的问题是,赛斯,你认为巴基斯坦很可能是阿富汗问题上最强大的外部行动者,但聊天框中有许多人都指出,中巴关系非常密切。那么您认为巴基斯坦在多大程度上愿意与中国在阿富汗问题上展开合作?巴基斯坦希望在多大程度上维护其在阿富汗的影响力?

赛斯:这是非常好的问题,我认为这个问题切中要害。首先,巴基斯坦有自己的利益,就像每个国家向塔利班提供援助和在阿富汗开展行动都有自己的利益。这就是我之前谈到的双重挤压与战略深度。

归根结底,巴基斯坦的主要敌人是印度,正如我们在过去20年所看到的那样,巴基斯坦和印度的边界很长。通过与巴基斯坦外交部、国防部、总理和总统办公室以及三军情报局的高级官员谈话,我知道他们一直对阿富汗前政府非常不满,因为前政府也一直支持并与印度建立了战略关系,现在显然已经变了。塔利班是巴基斯坦的盟友,所以说到底,我认为巴基斯坦将出于自身利益继续支持塔利班,使其成为抗衡印度的力量。

2021年9月5日,巴基斯坦三军情报局局长法伊兹·哈米德在喀布尔会见阿富汗前总理,讨论组建联合政府。来源:今日印度

但是,与中国合作的机会的确存在,我认为中国希望塔利班做的任何事情,一般来说必须借助巴基斯坦。我并不是说中国不能直接联系塔利班领导人,中国可以。

但如果想要成功,中国就必须与巴基斯坦合作,巴基斯坦是塔利班最重要、最亲密的盟友和老朋友。当然,巴基斯坦和塔利班关系也存在紧张和摩擦,这种关系并不完美。

我认为中巴关系最大的挑战在于塔利班,因为塔利班将在多方面陷入困境。它在治理方面一直非常糟糕。我知道阿富汗可以通过各种方式来推动“一带一路”倡议。但我认为治理的问题将是长期的。

任何阿富汗的中央政府都很孱弱,塔利班将难以应对在其领土上活动的恐怖组织。阿富汗领土并不那么广大,然而历史上,这些恐怖组织扎根在难以控制的山区中,以及可能支持这些激进组织的当地部落或者亚部落部族中。

所以我认为在过去的一个世纪里,没有任何阿富汗政府能够有效地处理在其边境内的激进组织。我认为,当塔利班无法清除这些恐怖组织时,北京和伊斯兰堡的关系会变得紧张。而对一个政府力量薄弱的国家来说,这又是一个非常艰巨的任务。

另一个问题是,塔利班面对的治理挑战越多,经济问题也就越多,我也就越担心该国的暴力、叛乱和内战。目前塔利班能够暂时控制阿富汗,但之前的阿富汗政府也一度可以,随后事情恶化,出现了腐败、治理和经济问题,然后就会出现反抗。

就像我之前提到的第二点,这不是一个价值性的评论,这就是现状,是现实主义的评论,也是阿富汗的历史。印度人很可能会向在阿富汗北方活动的联盟团体提供援助,伊朗将继续向阿富汗西部、中部和北部的团体提供援助。

因此,反塔利班的组织将获得援助,尤其还是在塔利班存在治理和经济问题的情况下,我认为这将使任何像“一带一路”这样的长期倡议变得困难。在政府薄弱的情况下,很难建立安全体系,而类似马克斯·韦伯的的安全概念—在一个地区垄断暴力、合法暴力,这就是我所看到的挑战。

2021827日,阿富汗抵抗运动和反塔利班部队山顶上站岗。来源:BBC

林洋:谢谢赛斯。周波大校,如果您想就中国如何通过巴基斯坦影响阿富汗发表见解,或者你想论证中国不需要这样做,我记得您确实提出了这个论点,您可以谈谈中巴关系。

周波:上世纪90年代初期,当我刚到现在的国际军事合作办公室工作时,我接待了一个巴基斯坦代表团。我仍然记得他们国防部长说的话。他说巴基斯坦人几乎在所有问题上都有分歧,但是中巴友谊除外。中巴关系被巴基斯坦官方称为巴外交政策的基石,所以中巴之间不会有大问题。我们乐见巴基斯坦与阿富汗关系良好。敌人的敌人有可能是朋友,但朋友的朋友肯定是我的朋友。

我其实认为国际社会对美国的态度有些争议,就是美国所有条件背后的真实动机是什么?如果说内政部长必须下台,女孩必须上学,女性必须工作才给援助,这些都不是大问题。

具体难点是什么?这些真的是难题吗?我有时认为是因为美国以如此屈辱的方式离开了阿富汗,所以你们就以牙还牙羞辱塔利班,否则就说不通了。他们为什么只说不做?塔利班在治理方面的确存在很大问题,但这些事情可以改善。再说,就算你不喜欢,还有谁能代替塔利班呢?

的确,恐怖分子有各种派系,有的甚至通婚,有的还是朋友,这些我们都知道,但目前没有其他政治力量可以取代塔利班。考虑到发生的人道主义危机情况,我们需要真正考虑对阿富汗人民的人道主义援助。

即使情况变糟,比如你说的内战,中国仍然可以提供帮助。因为如果需要维和,那么中国可以派维和人员。中国目前在全球约有2500名维和人员,此外还有一支8000名的维和待命部队。如果阿富汗需要维和部队,那么它会最信任谁呢?当然是中国,因为中国从来没有入侵过阿富汗。所以即使我们最不想看到的和最不幸的情况发生,中国仍然可以帮助阿富汗。

再谈谈“一带一路”,如果一个国家不想加入“一带一路”,这真的重要吗?我觉得没那么重要,因为“一带一路”是基于自愿的。如果印度不想加入“一带一路”,那也没关系。但我相信阿富汗真的想加入,因为塔利班提过。“一带一路”进入阿富汗,我们仍然会遇到来自不同派系、有些是恐怖组织这样的困难,就像我们在巴基斯坦遇到的那样。巴基斯坦对中国是友好的,但仍然有“俾路支解放军”这样的团体出于各种目的袭击中国人。

但是,巴基斯坦政府心里清楚,“一带一路”对他们来说是几十年来的天赐良机,因此他们必须确保“一带一路”项目取得成功。谁不想要一条好路呢?所以我不是在排斥这些问题,但我认为抛开所有这些问题,中国的“一带一路”倡议仍然会取得成功。因为中国是在处理国家建设最根本的问题——修路和建设良好的基础设施。这样的宝贵经验来自于改革开放以来中国自身的发展历史,正是通过道路建设,我们才过上了更好的生活。

中巴经济走廊建设8年多来为巴带来254亿美元直接投资。来源:新华社

林洋:感觉我们再来一个小时的讨论都可以,双方都充满激情,也非常有见地。但遗憾的是我们的时间有限,就请赛斯和周波大校用30秒来简短总结一下你们的核心观点,先有请赛斯。

赛斯:我想以双方达成共识的论点收尾。我们可能对塔利班政府及其合法性有些分歧,但我认为双方都强烈同意的是中美进行更广泛的国际援助合作很重要,以尽量减少阿富汗人民的痛苦。

阿富汗人民没有选择塔利班政府,阿富汗没有选举。这是一个靠军事力量夺权的政府。无论如何,你不能责怪阿富汗人民。从这个意义上说,我们现在看到的阿富汗的苦难会持续,这会是一个非常寒冷和黑暗的冬天。

我们所有人,包括美国、中国和其他国家,都可以携手救阿富汗人民于水火之中。他们不应该受苦。我们没法结束所有的苦难,但我认为我们至少可以向阿富汗人提供一些援助,比如食物、毯子、药物和其他援助,来减轻他们的苦难。

周波:我完全同意琼斯博士所总结的。第一,我希望这会是中美合作的又一个新领域。我之前忘了说了,其实中美过去在阿富汗问题上有过很好的合作,我们共同培训过外交官和技术人员。这是过去成功的合作,我们为什么不继续下去呢?

第二,正如赛斯所说,我认为我们不应该因为塔利班而惩罚阿富汗人民。我们无法改变塔利班已经掌权的现实,但是我们不应有意或无意地惩罚阿富汗人民。让我们携手帮助阿富汗人民,因为凛冬将至。

林洋:谢谢赛斯和周波大校非常积极的收尾评论。

翻译:李泽西、汤卓筠

核稿:韩桦

China’s Power Up for Debate 2021

Bonny : Good morning, welcome to the 2021 China Power conference. I'm Bonny Lin, director of the China Power Project and senior fellow for Asian security at CSIS. Thank you for joining us today. Our debate topic focuses on Afghanistan, in particular whether China will establish itself as the most influential external power in Afghanistan within the next two years.

Following the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, China has taken measures to support the new Taliban controlled government. China has maintained its embassy in Kabul, held high level meetings with the Taliban and regional leaders on the future of Afghanistan, and called upon the international community to work with the Taliban in a rational and pragmatic matter.

At the same time, China has donated one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines and is stepping up efforts to deliver about $31 million in emergency humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. Beijing intends to provide another $5 million worth of food assistance.

As China is engaging in these activities, there is significant debate on China’s goals for Afghanistan. Some experts posit that Beijing seeks to pull Kabul into China’s geopolitical orbit, while others suggest that China hopes to integrate Afghanistan more deeply into the Belt & Road initiative, or maybe even extract Afghanistan’s mineral deposits.

Beijing is widely believed to want the Taliban’s cooperation on national security issues, such as rooting out the East Turkestan Islamic movement, which Beijing considers a significant terrorist and separatist threat in Xinjiang.

However, others doubt that China wants to secure a significant political and economic foothold in Afghanistan due to regional instability, previous failed economic partnerships and potentially even China’s own desire to keep Afghanistan at arm's length.

Today’s debate is on the proposition: “Within the next two years, China will establish itself as the most influential external power within Afghanistan”. Let me now move on to introduce our two speakers. So, we are very delighted to have with us two excellent speakers debating both for and against this proposition.

Arguing for the proposition is Senior Colonel (retired) Zhou Bo, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategy and Security at Tsinghua University and a China forum expert. Senior Colonel Zhou started his military service in 1979.

He served in different posts in Guangzhou air force regional command. From 1993, he worked successively as staff officer, deputy director general of West Asia and Africa Bureau and then deputy director general of general planning Bureau of the foreign affairs office of the Ministry of national defense of China.

He was also the Chinese defense attaché to the Republic of Namibia and director of the Center for Security Cooperation in the Office for International Military Cooperation, Ministry of National Defense.

He has published more than 100 essays and opinions in English. Senior Colonel Zhou Bo also speaks as a PLA delegate at the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore and at the Munich Security Conference, and is a supervisor to foreign postgraduate officers at the PLA national defense University.

We're also delighted to have with us today arguing against the proposition Dr Seth Jones, senior vice president, Harold brown Chair and director of the International Security Program at CSIS. Dr. Jones leads a bipartisan team of over 50 resident staff and extensive network of non-resident affiliates dedicated to providing independent strategic insights and policy solutions that shape national security.

He also teaches at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the US Naval Postgraduate School. Prior to joining CSIS, Dr Jones was the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation.

He also served as a representative for the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. Before that, he was a plans officer and advisor to the commanding general US special operations forces in Afghanistan.

So thank you both for taking the time to join us this morning. So, first, let me turn to Senior Colonel Zhou Bo for his initial presentation on why China will become the most influential external power within Afghanistan.

Zhou Bo:

Thank you, Bonny, and good evening from Beijing. Well, this is a good question whether within the next two years China will establish itself as the most influential external power within Afghanistan. Let's assume, if it is not China, then who else can it be? The United States has gone. Russia has a battered record in Afghanistan and its economy is just one-ninth or one-tenth of that of China. India, of course, wants to come in, but because of the Taliban’s strong ties with Pakistan, Pakistan does not want India in for two reasons.

First, Pakistan always takes Afghanistan as its strategic depth, and secondly, it will try its best to minimize the influence of India in Afghanistan. Therefore, China’s role as a direct neighbor and the second-largest economy would certainly be helpful.

Besides, I believe that China has two unique advantages in Afghanistan. One is political impartiality, the other is an economic investment. At the first, Afghans do not have bad memories of China, be it in Tang Dynasty over 1000 years ago or now between two countries. Unlike those invaders that came from afar to invade Afghanistan, China is a close neighbor which has never invaded Afghanistan.

So even today, China’s still among the few countries to keep its embassy open in Afghanistan, even though Beijing has not yet officially recognized the Taliban government. This does not mean that China has any special love for the Taliban, because China’s position on the Afghan issue before and after Americans’ pullout is the same, and it is in line with the international community.

We in China consider the Afghan issue not something about geopolitics or big power wrestling. It's more about humanity and humanitarian care. We, like the international community, with the Taliban government could become moderate, open, and inclusive. Of course, we also wish they can make a clear break away from terrorist groups. China has a special concern, as Bonny mentioned just now, for the East Turkestan Islamic movement that aims to destabilize Xinjiang. We wish the Taliban will honor its promise that it won't allow anyone or any force using Afghan territory to harm China.

Now let me talk about a second unique advantage of China, which is an economic investment. Even in China, from time to time, we would have people talking about how China should be cautious or China should not be overly optimistic.

But I think somewhat differently because it's not a question of whether China should enter into Afghanistan or not. China was already there in Afghanistan even during wartime.

China is the third-largest trading partner of Afghanistan after only Pakistan and Iran. Chinese products are highly competitive in Afghanistan. And in Afghanistan, there are big Chinese companies, which are among the top five hundred largest companies in the world, like Huawei, ZTE, China Railway Engineering Group Limited, China metallurgical group corporation, and China national petroleum company.

These companies have been there for quite some time. Besides, China’s capability in infrastructure building and industry is next to none. And these are badly needed for a war-torn country, a country where industry capability is next to zero.

And this is also what the Taliban wants. In their official statements, the Taliban have expressed time and again that they would welcome Chinese companies to invest in Afghanistan. And even before its takeover of Kabul, the Taliban has promised to protect Chinese investment in Afghanistan.

Of course, the security issue is crucial for massive Chinese investment. But simply speaking, isn't Afghanistan now safer than during wartime? Of course, it is. There’s a bigger background, the whole of China’s Belt & Road initiative, to a great extent, overlaps with the so-called “Arc of instability” on land. The arc of instability starts from the southern Sahara, it goes through the Caucasus mountains and lands finally somewhere in Southeast Asia. And this is exactly how China’s Belt & Road initiative on land is unfolding.

Besides, Afghanistan also has what China needs, for example, the $1 trillion untapped mineral deposit, including critical industrial metals such as lithium, iron, copper, and cobalt.

Actually, in November, representatives of five Chinese companies obtained a special visa from the Taliban government to have an onsite inspection of potential lithium projects. So this is a good example of how Chinese companies might further explore the market of Afghanistan.

One of China’s long-term strategic investment plans is the Belt & Road initiative, and Afghanistan until now has been an attractive but missing piece of the enormous puzzle. If China were able to extend the Belt & Road from Pakistan through to Afghanistan, for example, with the Peshawar to Kabul motorway, it would open up a shorter land route to gain access to markets in the Middle East.

Although China has its unique advantages but does not count on China to fill in the black hole left by the United States. I do not consider China would be the first country to recognize the Taliban. But I believe the international community should help Afghanistan to become a normal country because that would be most conducive to peace and stability of the country and is also conducive to the security and the stability of the whole region.

If the Taliban government becomes paralyzed, then Afghanistan would be plunged into more serious chaos. Currently, the situation is already very much dire. In this winter, nearly 23 million people, which means more than half of the population, might have a problem of food insecurity. This country is confronting one of the worst droughts in decades. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan’s wheat harvest is expected to be as much as 25% below average this year.

Then how can we solve all these problems? My answer is very simple——Give the Taliban a chance, let them honor their promise of being inclusive and open. This is the most realistic approach. Why? Because unless there is serious internal conflict within the Taliban, the Taliban regime will maintain its rule for a long time to come because there are no other political or military forces that can counterbalance the Taliban.

If the Taliban government stabilizes and practices domestic or foreign policies that are not extreme, then for all the countries in the region, it's only a matter of time as to when to recognize the Taliban government, because we have to face the reality. But I believe the Taliban government should have learned something from the 1990s when they took power. At least they said the right things. They've promised to be open and inclusive, to let women go to work and let girls go to school. The only problem is they have yet to fully realize their promise.

Now let me talk a bit about what the United States should do, what China and the United States can do, and what the United Nations can do.

Now the United States has withdrawn, but still, the United States cannot leave Afghanistan completely. First, this is a moral issue. The “forever war” of the United States in Afghanistan had devastated this country. So it is immoral for the United States just to leave. Biden’s slogan is “build back better”. But why shouldn't the United States build back Afghanistan better? The White House has announced that the United States plans to make its first investment in overseas infrastructure projects as part of the G7’s “build back better world” initiative in January. But it seems that given all the countries I mentioned in the tour of national security advisor Daleep Singh, Afghanistan is not among the countries on his recent “listening tours”.

Second, I believe the Biden administration must race against time to de-freeze Afghan liquidity and overseas assets and lift unilateral sanctions because the window is closing. According to New York Times, aid groups say this winter one million children might be starved to death. When I read this figure of one million, I thought of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, which reportedly killed 800,000 to one million people. Of course, we shall see how true that it is. But even if 1000 children die, let alone one million, it will be more humiliating than US catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan. It will be another catastrophe on the moral ground and image of the United States. Why? Because when Afghans are dying, their money that should have been used to save lives is still in American banks, and the American government simply would not give it back to Afghans. The Federal Reserve in New York holds about seven billion US dollars from the previous Afghan government. The World Bank holds 1.5 billion US dollars in trust for Afghanistan. Afghanistan's economy depends on aid, with grants financing approximately 75% of public spending, and international donors accounted for 43% of its GDP. Since the Taliban takeover, banks are running out of cash, and even those with savings are unable to access the funds. This is a miserable situation.

Now, can China and the US cooperate bilaterally or multilaterally to solve this problem? China and the United States are the largest and second-largest economies that have special responsibilities for world peace and stability.

Cooperation in Afghanistan actually might help this relationship which is extremely complicated and ever-competitive between China and the US. And we do have a lot of things in common on the issue of Afghanistan.

Neither China nor the United States wishes to see Afghanistan sliding into a civil war, both of us support a political solution that is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, and both of us hope the Taliban would become open and inclusive.

When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in August, he said China stood ready to work with the United States to push a soft landing of the Afghan issue. What does a soft landing mean? I assume that means to let the situation calm down.

But to let the situation calm down, you need to provide blood transfusion to Afghanistan which relies on a blood transfusion from international donors for the fund. So that is why we in China call for defreezing Afghan liquidity, overseas assets, and lifting unilateral sanctions.

When Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited China, she mentioned about one area of cooperation that is counter-narcotics. That is good because China is also a victim of narcotics and Afghanistan produced some 80% of the world's opium.

But think about this: if the Taliban doesn't have international assistance, if the Taliban cannot get back the money from American Federal Reserve, then drug is still very important for the survival of this government because they have no other resources. Then China and the United States can't cooperate on counter-narcotics.

And finally, how could China and the United States promote cooperation among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council? I believe the five permanent members of the UN Security Councils should quickly come into consultation and make explicit requirements over the Taliban for conditions of uplifting sanctions.

Because this Afghan issue is unlike the Iranian nuclear issue or DPRK nuclear issue, it's much easier to resolve. Why? Because the international community’s requirements on Taliban are the same: to become open, moderate, and inclusive.

China and Russia’s approach are somewhat different from those of the United States, France, and the UK, but our attitudes are the same because we want the same thing. So if our attitudes are all the same, and the only difference is the approaches, then we can come to discuss.

For example, could we just lay down clearly what we need the Taliban to do immediately? Could we ask them to have some woman ministers? Could we ask them to let the women go to work or ask the girls to go to school? Because so far all that I heard are mostly things like this. And I believe such things are not so difficult. If you tell the Taliban these are the conditions for you to have money back, I believe immediately they would agree, because these are the things they have promised. So now we should lay down specific conditions for them to honor, and I believe it's possible. Let me stop here. Thank you.

Bonny :

Senior Colonel Zhou Bo, thank you very much for your comprehensive remarks, looking not only at why China should be interested in Afghanistan, but also laying out recommendations for what China can do, what the United States can do and what the international community can do. So with that, let me turn the floor to Dr. Seth Jones, and then afterwards we'll go into the rebuttals. So Seth, over to you.

Seth :

Thank you very much, Bonnie for moderating this. And thank you very much, Senior Colonel Zhou for those really good comments on what is, as we will talk about over the next 50 minutes or so, a very difficult situation.

Overall, though, I think there are three main logical and empirical problems with the proposition, and let me treat them. I'll give an overview first and then go into depth on each of them. First, I think the historical record is clear about Afghanistan, and that is that at its core, it is a weak state with a decentralized social political infrastructure. So in a sense, significant foreign influence writ large is almost an oxymoron.

This is a fallacy, I think, that the British, the Soviets and the Americans really failed in many ways to understand. Second is that because of the weakness of the Afghan state, we talk about the Taliban, but the Taliban’s power and control, as one gets to rural areas of the country, tribal, subtribe, clan areas of the country, Afghanistan has also been, and will likely continue to be at the mercy of multiple regional and global powers that will work with various warlords and strongmen.

And that is, unfortunately, the reality. So there will continue to be intense competition among all of the major powers in the region: India, Iran, central Asian governments, China, Russia and Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, which will in many ways work against any kind of stability. And I say this not because this is the way the situation in Afghanistan should be, but simply the way that it is.

And then third, if there's any state that has influence with the Taliban and in Afghanistan, it's Pakistan. The argument really is that Islamabad in particular holds the vast majority of influence cards in Afghanistan, as it has demonstrated for over 30 years. I'm going to end by unpacking that. And if China has a chance of influence with Afghanistan, my argument will kind of end with: it will be and have to be working by, with and through Pakistan as the main conduit.

So first of all, Afghanistan is at its core, a weak state with a decentralized socio-political structure, and in that sense, influence is something of an oxymoron. Most Afghans reject a strong central government from actively meddling in their affairs, and I remember having a conversation with a tribal leader down in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, who told me straight up that my first allegiance is to my family, then to my village, then to my subtribe and finally to my tribe, and he continued by explaining that the government in any meaningful way, and this is just as true a government under Hamid Karzai as under Ashraf Ghani as now under the Taliban, plays little meaningful role in the daily life of most Afghans. So the idea that a foreign country like China, let alone the central government itself, can have a meaningful impact throughout the country.

I think, is actually fallacious and actually from that standpoint, even from an anthropological standpoint, misunderstands the power structures in Afghanistan. About two thirds of the country of Afghan Pashtuns belong to some combination of the Ghilzai and Durrani Confederations.

There are smaller elements of the Karlani Confederation in Afghanistan’s eastern and southeastern provinces. But if we look at, say, the Durrani tribes, we've got some pro and anti-Taliban tribes. The Popalzai and Barakzai, for example, have generally been anti-Taliban, some of the Ishakzai and some elements of the Nurzai have generally been pro-Taliban.

Among the Ghilzai, we've got a number of pro-Taliban tribes such as the Zadran and the Hotaks, and then we have a number of anti-Taliban Ghilzais. We also have a number of ethnic groups in Afghanistan, many of whom have generally not been sympathetic to the Taliban over time, Uzbeks, Tajiks certainly the Shia Hazara and various Turkmen and others.

The point here is that the power structure in Afghanistan is very decentralized, and so this has two implications for our broader discussion. One is it will continue to be a problem for the Taliban, because when one gets outside of provincial capitals, even some district centers, Taliban power even today is very limited, if not nonexistent.

So the ability of even the Taliban to influence what's going on in the country is severely limited, and it was during the 1990s and we've seen it with the respective governments in Afghanistan since 9/11. So even the idea that a foreign government, whether it's the British, the Russians, the Americans and now the Chinese, can have significant influence in a country that doesn't even have a strong central government, I think has to be understood.

Make it to my second issue, which is the weakness of the Afghan state historically has been filled by competition by multiple governments in the region, and I think this works against really the ability to influence, certainly by one major power. So if we look at the countries in the region, all of them have provided some elements of clandestine assistance to both governments, that's the Taliban today, as well as local militia forces, strongmen, power brokers, businessmen.

The Iranians have had significant influence in western Afghanistan, including in provinces like Herat, the Hazaras in central Afghanistan, as well as a number of what we often call this sort of old northern alliance crowd in the North, some of the Uzbek and Tajik power brokers. India continues to have influence among some of that northern alliance group, those that operate out of northern Afghan provinces and cities such as Mazar, Taloqan, we've seen Indian intelligence agencies for 30 years provide support to substate actors in those areas.

Central Asian countries, much the same: Tajiks with some of the Tajik community, Uzbekistan with some of the Uzbek communities. In addition, obviously Pakistan has had significant influence with the Taliban and other Pashtun groups operating in parts of eastern, southern and then western Afghanistan as well. So the point here is that we've got a lot of powers that have attempted and will continue to influence Afghanistan. But China is not alone, and with a weak state, there sadly are multiple opportunities for other countries to meddle.

And this brings me to my final point, really, about the proposition. And I want to sort of lay out some of the challenges I see with the Taliban regime that have little to do with the ability to get access to foreign aid or to get sanctions uplifted. And the third proposition if there's any state that has significant influence, it's not China. As we've seen over the past three decades, it's Pakistan.

Pakistan has a long relationship with militant groups and other non-state actors operating in Afghanistan. It was Pakistan’s leader, General Zia Ul-Haq, who remarked in 1979 to the head of ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, Lieutenant General Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan, that the water in Afghanistan must boil at the right temperature.

We repeat that: the water in Afghanistan must boil at the right temperature. This has been a time-honored statement from senior Pakistan leaders, that Afghanistan sits on Pakistan’s border, and without Pakistan influence among Afghan leaders.

So today the Taliban, there is what senior Pakistan officials said to me when I was in the US government, and even since, talking to senior Pakistan, including ISI leaders, there is a double squeeze on one border, Pakistan has to deal with its long term enmity with India, and on its other border, it has had to deal over the last 20 years with an India that has had close relationships with both President Karzai first and then president Ghani after that. So you see, Pakistan has been caught in a double squeeze for the past 20 years. It has now relief on its western flank. It now has an ally in Kabul that is very important to supporting its strategic depth.

If we look at the 1980s, and I think history is important, Pakistan’s ISI provided aid to the mujahideen, the seven major mujahedeen groups in cooperation at that point with the US and several other governments. In the 1990s, the ISI helped support the Taliban itself. It was there at the foundation of the Taliban, was involved in helping recruit individuals at Madrasas, both on the Afghan and Pakistan side of the border. The Taliban itself was born as an extremist Islamic movement from both Pakistani and Afghan Madrasas, supported by Pakistan.

Pakistan has been influential, extraordinarily influential with the Taliban from its very inception as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the early 1990s failed to take Kabul, it was ISI help that was pivotal in providing direct support on the ground, forward deployed ISI and Pakistan Air Force operatives as the Taliban pushed into western Afghanistan, into central Afghanistan and eventually into Kabul and the northern Afghan cities. During the 2000s, after the US-led overthrow of the Taliban regime, what did the Taliban do? They relocated where, not into India, not into China, not into central Asia, not in Iran but into Pakistan.

Their command and control networks, what we call the Rabbari Shura relocated to the areas in and around Quetta in southern Pakistan along the Afghan-Pakistan border. That's where the senior Taliban, the Rabbari Shura, had its primary committees, from its military Committee to its religious Committee, its finance Committee, all located on the Pakistan side of the border, again in and around Quetta, where Taliban senior leaders, first under Mullah Muhammad Omar, then under Mullah Mansour and then under Akhundzada, the current Taliban leader, brought their families who resided in schools. Pakistan ISI operatives continued to provide close assistance to the Taliban over the course of the 2000s, 2010s and even into early 2021. They sat in the senior Rabbari Shura meetings. They provide multiple types of assistance as the Taliban continued its political and military struggle in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s ISI provided money that went to Taliban forward deployed forces. They provided intelligence, including Indian activities, intelligence on Afghan government activities, US and others. They provided material, small arms for example. They provided gas and petroleum to Taliban forces for their vehicles, everything from motorcycles to trucks that were used to bring weapons across the border.

But primarily, I think we've seen the most important avenue of Pakistan influence has been sanctuary and support over time and over three decades of a close relationship. Now that relationship has been important.

If we look at the Afghan minister of interior right now, from the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has an interesting long term relationship with both senior Pakistan and ISI officials. He also has a strong historical relationship with al Qaeda, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

So again, I don't see how anyone could argue anything other than Pakistan’s influence has been paramount over the past 30 years. And even if they're not the ones that will provide the most assistance, they will continue to have the most influence in an organization that they helped create, helped foster, helped support. When no one else in the world did over the past 20 years, everyone else in the world cut off diplomatic relations with the Taliban, Pakistan continued to provide support. So Pakistan, I think, in that sense will retain the most important influence.

So let me just summarize, and then I want to put a few issues on the table. One is, I think it is important to recognize when we look at Afghans’ anthropological makeup and its history, that at its core it is a weak, what we often call a rentier state, with a decentralized socio-political infrastructure. Foreign influence has always been limited, as has the influence of the central government.

This will be a problem for the Taliban, as it has been for every central government in Afghanistan for at least the past century. And this is a problem, I think, that if it hasn't dawned on the Chinese and even Pakistan, it should sooner rather than later, because it has been a challenge for the British, been a challenge for the Russians, been a challenge for the Americans. Second, because of the weakness of the state, there will continue to be intense competition from every major power in the region, as well as the Europeans, the US and others outside of that.

That will continue, and I think it is an inevitable undermining of any central government's power, and it's about realist balance of power competition. Again, I say this not as a normative statement about what the situation should be in Afghanistan, but what it is and what it has been historically. And third, the argument here is that the one state that has been by the Taliban side has provided aid, understands Taliban leaders, has those personal relationships, is Islamabad, and I think that will continue.

Let me just say a couple other, just very brief remarks about kind of the challenges we face, and then some avenues for US Chinese cooperation. I think the Afghan economy is collapsing for reasons in general that have little to do with the ability to get access to world bank, government or other funding.

And I think there's some broad challenges just to add to this discussion here, the minister of interior, who I mentioned earlier, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a designated international terrorist who has longstanding direct ties based on UN security Council multiple reports with al Qaeda. This has been a problem and I think will be a continuing problem for the legitimacy of the Taliban government.

We've also seen recently a number of multinational companies express deep concern about what is not a transparent or a fair justice system with no clear laws, it's one that's based instead on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia; going to be very difficult to create an environment that is supportive or conducive to businesses and foreign direct investment, with an extreme interpretation of sharia that runs the government, and I think we are going to continue to see very serious concerns about foreign companies wanting to operate in a justice system that is barely functioning right now and that cannot transparently mediate disputes.

If we look at Taliban governance during the 1990s, it was the worst performing government in the world during the 1990s and failed at all categories of world bank governance, corruption, poor governance in a number of areas. So I think there are going to be some big challenges in what the Taliban generally can do. But I do think to end on a positive note, I think there are areas of cooperation that are going to be important for the US and China. And I strongly agree with Senior Colonel Zhou on areas of humanitarian assistance. Afghans are suffering.

They will continue to suffer. A chunk of it has to do with what it looks like anyway is a poorly functioning Taliban government. But that does not mean that Afghans should suffer without US Chinese and other assistance. That should be support to internally displaced persons, refugees and others.

That support from the international community is important. There is a continuing need for support to combat counter drug operations. Opium is the largest export commodity of Afghanistan right now, and the Taliban has longstanding drug trade ties, it's their biggest source of income over the past 20 years. There is a need to continue to struggle against drug trafficking, the production, cultivation and trafficking in poppy. And then, finally, there will continue to be a need to counter terrorist groups in Afghanistan and the broader region. Afghanistan is becoming the centerpiece, the epicenter of global terrorism.

We've seen a resurgence of Islamic state attacks, the Islamic state, Khorasan Province, the local affiliate of the Islamic state, and al Qaeda, as US intelligence has warned, may have external operations capabilities in 2022. In addition, we see a number of groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba operating in Afghanistan as well as, as Senior Colonel Zhou mentioned, extremist Uyghur groups operating in the country. So with a weak government, with a potential failing government, it will be a recipe for safe haven for international and regional terrorist groups. And I think there is a need for cooperation for intelligence sharing and then action against those groups. So there are avenues for common interests and common cooperation, and so with that, I will hand this off to Bonny.

Bonny :

Thank you very much, Seth, for an excellent discussion not only of a domestic, decentralized issues within Afghanistan but also the influence of Pakistan, and then also turning to some of the comments that Senior Colonel Zhou recommended. So let me now turn the floor back to Senior Colonel Zhou Bo for any responses, reactions to any of the points that Seth made, or any additional elaboration that you want to make so Senior Colonel Zhou.

Zhou Bo:

Thanks, Bonny, and thank you, Dr. Jones. I'm very much happy at the end of your presentation you have talked about how China and the United States might cooperate bilaterally on quite a few fronts, and I'm most happy that you've mentioned intelligence cooperation on counter-terrorism. I think I missed one point. We can also help Afghanistan in cultural protection, as the historical sites. And these kinds of things are not controversial at all, and I believe they would be useful.

But I do have some disagreements on what you said when you talked about China most probably will influence Afghanistan through Pakistan. No, I don't think so, because you have talked to great lengths about how Pakistan influences Kabul. I agree. Agree. But China can certainly provide a lot of things that Islamabad cannot provide.

For example, China is a great power, China’s power as one of the P5 countries. When at the political level, be it lifting the sanctions or some other consultations with other four permanent members of the Security Council, this is not something that Pakistan can do to help Afghanistan. And besides, even economically, you see, China can tremendously help Afghanistan.

As I mentioned before, China is the strongest country in infrastructure building, and China is the largest industrial nation on earth. So on all these fronts, China can help Afghanistan tremendously. But the point is when China helps Afghanistan, China doesn't have its special interests, like taking Afghanistan as a proxy whatsoever, because what makes China different from all the invaders in history is that all these invaders came with the rifle, with bombs.

And when China comes, China comes with blueprints about road construction, about bridge construction, and who doesn't want good roads, and who doesn't want the bridges? So these things would be invariably welcomed by everybody in Afghanistan.

But I also disagree with you: If Afghanistan is bankrupted, you argue that it hasn't much to do with international assistance. No, I disagree. And I do believe that the Biden administration has a great moral responsibility. Besides, it will find itself in an extremely difficult situation. If people in Afghanistan are dying and Afghan people's money is in your hands, people can argue safely, they die because of you. Why don't you give back their own money? and you would still prefer to let them die? So that is what I call a second catastrophe that is more consequential than Americans’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. So that is why we need to solve this problem. And time is running out and we have to be quick. Thank you.

Bonny :

Thank you Senior colonel Zhou, very passionate analysis, and let me turn to Seth for a quick rebuttals. And then we will move to Q & A.

Seth :

Thanks Bonny and thanks Senior Colonel Zhou.

Well, there's no question that that a range of countries, including China, can provide assistance in Afghanistan. And I think if you look at the history of Afghanistan, even over the last 20 years, we've seen Japan and South Korea, the US, the Europeans, providing assistance.

That will continue. In many ways, China will provide some assistance. Frankly, we haven't seen China provide significant assistance, certainly not at the levels that we have seen from the US over the past 20 years into the billions of dollars in road construction, but also in various aspects of health.

I would point out that if we look at a range of indicators over the past 20 years, that Afghan society is still much better off than what it was in the 1990s, that health conditions are notably better from the 1990s.

Thanks to significant international assistance, education has improved and literacy rates are notably better. So economic, health, education factors have improved dramatically, if you look at both IMF and world bank data, and that's thanks to a range of international assistance, but it also has involved significant amounts of international assistance, and China so far has not been willing to provide anything close to those amounts.

And I'm not sure it will, which means that if we're going to see Afghanistan continue to at least see a flat lining of key health and education factors, there are two things. One is a range of governments will need to provide some assistance, particularly humanitarian assistance, not just China. And again, I think what we have not seen, we've seen China certainly talk about providing assistance, we haven't seen it do that in the sense of a dollar amounts.

And second, and I think this is important, there are some huge problems we've already seen with Taliban governance right now that even with international assistance, we've seen a targeted assassinations across Afghanistan, we have seen a serious movement against women and women working. This is going to have a major effect on the economy. We've seen a fundamental shifting away from having any kind of formalized justice system that companies can operate in. This is going to continue to have a problem.

And then we've seen a Taliban regime that has very close relations, including its minister of interior with a foreign designated terrorist organization, al Qaeda. These are all going to be big problems that aren't going to be fixed. And I think these I do think Senior Colonel Zhou, understate the severe problems that the Taliban faces in governing effectively.

So that even releasing the international funds that are being held up right now, as we've seen the Afghan government formed, no women in its senior roles, almost no technocrats, we have religious leaders that are running the country with no experience in running any kind of a government in the last 20 years. I mean, if there's any hope for Afghanistan in the future, it's not going to be releasing some international funds. It's going to be building governance capacity right now for the Taliban.

And as we've seen in Afghanistan, with a weak historical central government, building effective governance is going to be the single biggest challenges. This is not lifting World Bank, IMF, US, European funding. This is going to be building a functioning government system. And I think that's where I see the biggest challenge. And again, you know, at the end of the day, when it comes to influence within a foreign country, I would say it's not about the amount of money that countries provide.

There's no question that China has the ability to provide more money to Afghanistan than Pakistan. But the reality is that there are deep historical links and deep current links between senior Taliban leaders and Pakistan. That is the reality, that for every single current Taliban leader, where have they lived over the past 20 years? Where have their children grown up? It's been in Pakistan.

Pakistan has a large Pashtun population that has been supportive of Afghanistan. So I think the reality is that that is the government, Islamabad, that has the trust, the legitimacy, the support, the understanding of the Taliban right now, as poorly functioning as that Taliban government is.

And that, by far, we saw it in the 1980s, we saw it in the 1990s, we saw it in the 2000s, we've seen for four decades Pakistan’s successful influence in Afghanistan, and I think arguing for anything other than that is to misunderstand the power dynamics both within Afghanistan, within the region, within the Taliban itself. But let me come back again to this issue.

None of this should distract us from finding avenues for cooperation in Afghanistan. I have argued on the record that it was a mistake for the US to leave Afghanistan. I think it would be a mistake for the US not to provide additional assistance in the future. There are avenues, and there are areas where the US can and should cooperate on humanitarian grounds, counter-narcotics grounds and even counterterrorist grounds, areas of common interest and even some common cooperation with China and obviously other governments in the region as well.

Bonny :

Great, thank you , so let me now move this to the Q & A. Let me actually start off with a question for Senior Colonel Zhou Bo. Seth mentioned this earlier, there have been quite a bit of a reporting in terms of the emergence of terrorist groups within Afghanistan, and we're also seeing that ISIS-K is increasingly targeting China. This October, we saw a Uyghur suicide bomber killed 60 people at a mosque in Afghanistan, and this bombing was messaged as intended to punish the Taliban for its cooperation with China.

Despite Chinese actions against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, I want to get your sense of how this message was received in Beijing, and to what extent might these concerns that if China becomes more involved in Afghanistan, there might be more terrorist retaliation against Beijing? How might that impact Chinese thinking about it's willingness to be involved in Afghanistan.

Zhou :

It's a very good question. Well, as I have responded just now, I would also like to give a response to Dr. Jones. It's not a question of how we like the Taliban. It's a question now that they are already in power and no other political forces, like it or not, could overthrow the Taliban. I understand what you said about how strong a relationship Kabul is with Islamabad.

I do not disagree whatsoever at all. With Bonny's question, yes, we have the ETIM in Afghanistan and that is why we would want them, the Taliban, to curb those anti-China terrorist groups. The possibility of the terrorists getting across the China-Afghan border through the Wakhan corridor is very much limited because the environment is extremely harsh.

It is steeply and it is very, very difficult for Afghans to get across to the Chinese side from the border. But still, the whole ETIM movement may just spill over into China. So our attitude toward the Afghan government is very clear because this is our top concern for China. Because these terrorist groups are limited in number, actually a few hundred, so Taliban government should have full capability to keep these people under control or even eradicate them.

Bonny :

Great, thank you, Senior Colonel Zhou. I see a couple of questions for Seth related to the relationship between Pakistan and China, and maybe I could first address this question to Seth and then Senior Colonel Zhou if you want to jump on this.

So the general question is, Seth, you argue that Pakistan is likely to be the most powerful external actor on Afghanistan. But many folks in the chat have noted that China has a very strong relationship with Pakistan. So to what extent do you think that Pakistan would be open to cooperating with China on Afghanistan? And to what extent does Pakistan want to preserve its own influence in Afghanistan?

Seth :

Well, very good questions, Bonny, and I think this sort of cuts to the heart of what we're talking about. So first of all, Pakistan has its own self-interest, like every country does in providing assistance to the Taliban and operating in Afghanistan. And that gets to the double squeeze that I talked about earlier, strategic depth, that at the end of the day, the Pakistan’s main enemy is India.

Pakistan and India share a long border and as we have seen over the last 20 years, and my conversations with senior Pakistan officials in the foreign affairs area, in the ministry of defense, in the prime minister's and president's office and then within ISI, is they have been very unhappy about an Afghan government, up until now, that has been supportive and had strategic relations with India.

So that's obviously changed. The Taliban is an ally of Pakistan, so at the end of the day, I think Pakistan is going to be self-interested to retain support with the Taliban as part of its balancing effort against India.

However, there are going to be opportunities to cooperate with China. And I think you know, any activity that the Chinese want the Taliban to do, I think in general is going to have to be done by, with and through Pakistan. And I'm not saying that China cannot go directly to Taliban leaders. It can. But if it's going to be successful, it's going to have to work with Pakistan, which is the most important and closest ally and historical friend of the Taliban. We have seen tensions with Pakistan and the Taliban, so it's not like that relationship is perfect. But I’ll tell you, the biggest area of concern

I have about the China-Pakistan relationship is going to be that the Taliban, I think, is going to struggle enormously on multiple fronts. Its track record of running a government is very poor, and I know that there are all kinds of certainly hopeful ways that Afghanistan can be useful for Belt & Road initiative.

The problem, I think, is going to be long-term, that with a weak central government, a weak historical central government, the Taliban is going to have problems dealing with terrorist groups operating on its soil. Its size isn't very large. Afghanistan has a history of having these groups embedded themselves in mountainous areas that are difficult to operate in, in local tribal sub tribe clan populations that may be conducive to those militant groups.

So I think no Afghan government in the past in the last century has been able to effectively deal with militant groups entirely on its border. That will create tensions, I think, between Beijing and Islamabad when the Taliban is not fully successful in countering these terrorist groups. And again it's a very tall order in a country with a weak state.

The other problem is the more that we see these governance challenges from the Taliban, and the more we see economic problems, I think the more concerned I have about violence, insurgency and civil war in the country.

Now the Taliban is able to control the country, for now. So did the previous Afghan government for about a year or two once, things didn't work out particularly well, and we saw corruption problems, governance challenges, economic challenges.

Then we began to see resistance, and that second point that I mentioned earlier, you better believe, and this is not a normative comment, that this is the way the situation should be, but more a realist comment that this is the way the situation has historically is, you better believe that the Indians will provide assistance to northern alliance groups operating in the country.

The Iranians will continue to provide assistance to groups in western and central and northern Afghanistan. So there will be aid coming to groups that push back against the Taliban, particularly if there are governance and economics problems. And this is going to make it difficult, I think, for any kind of a long term Belt & Road initiative, with a weak government, it’s going to be hard to establish security, sort of Max weber's concept of security, having a monopoly of violence, of legitimate violence in a territory. That's, I think, the challenge that I see.

Bonny :

Thank you Seth. Senior Colonel Zhou, if you want to provide your thoughts on how China may be able to influence Afghanistan through Pakistan, or if you want to argue that China doesn't need to do so. I think you did make that argument. But maybe you could talk a little bit about the China-Pakistan relationship.

Zhou Bo:

Well, let me tell you something. Back in the early 1990s, when I first entered my office of military cooperation, the international military cooperation, I received a Pakistani delegation, and I still remember what the defense minister said. He said Pakistani disagree on almost everything except our friendship with China. This, officially speaking, is called the bedrock of their foreign policy, so China won’t have big problems with Pakistan.

And if Pakistan has a good relationship with Afghanistan, we are happy to see that. An enemy’s enemy is probably a friend, but a friend’s friend is my friend. And actually, I think the international community has some suspicions about the American attitude. That is what is the true motive behind laying down all the conditions?

If you say, okay, the interior minister must be off the cabinet for us to give you aid, if the girls must go to school, if women must work, these are not big issues. What are the specific, difficult issues that you are raising? So I believe sometimes because the United States just has left Afghanistan in such a humiliating way, you just want to humiliate the Taliban back.

Otherwise, it cannot be explained. Why would you just say this and that without doing much? Of course, the Taliban has a great problem in governance, but these things could improve. Besides, even if you don't like them, who else could replace them? Yes, there are factions of terrorists and even they have intermarriage, even they are friends, we know all this, but no other political forces can replace the Taliban right now. And because of the impending situation, we need to think about humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.

And even if we have the worst situation, for example, what you said to be a civil war, China can still help, because if peacekeeping is required, then China can send the peacekeepers. China has currently about 2500 peacekeepers around the world, and China has 8000 standby troops for peacekeeping. So who can trust the peacekeepers best if the country tends to be Afghanistan?

Of course, Chinese, because China never invaded Afghanistan. So even in this most unpleasant and unfortunate situation, China can still help Afghanistan. And talking about the Belt & Road. Does it matter if a country doesn't want to join Belt & Road? I think it doesn't matter that much because acceptance of the Belt & Road initiative is just voluntary.

If India doesn't want to join Belt & Road, that is fine. But I believe Afghanistan wants to join because the Taliban mentioned that. And because, even if we have Belt & Road under developing in Afghanistan, we could still have problems from all these factions, from all these terrorist groups whatsoever, as we have seen in Pakistan. Pakistan is friendly to China, but still, there are such groups such as the “Baluchistan Liberation Army”, where there is sabotage against the Chinese because of different purposes.

But still, the Pakistan government knows this is a godsend for them over decades, so they have to make sure that these projects would become successful. So who doesn't want to good road? So I'm not excluding all the problems, but I'm what I'm saying is all these problems aside, China’s Belt & Road initiative has still become successful because China is targeting the basic problem, the most fundamental problem in national building. This is about building roads and building good infrastructure. And such kind of good experiences come from China’s own experience since reform and opening up. And it is through building beautiful roads, we are having a better life. Thank you.

Bonny :

Thank you, Senior Colonel Zhou. I feel like we could probably go on another hour with a very passionate and very insightful analysis on both sides.

But in the interest of time, we'll need to wrap up here. I will turn to both Seth as well as Senior Colonel Zhou for a very quick 30 second wrap up of whatever you want to say in terms of your position or what you want folks to take away. So Seth over to you.

Seth :

Yeah, let me just end with some comments I think on where both Senior Colonel Zhou and I agree, and that is, we may disagree a bit on the Taliban government, its legitimacy, but I think one area where we strongly agree, and where Chinese US and broader international assistance is going to be important, is to minimize the suffering of the Afghan people.

They did not choose this Taliban government. There were no elections. It was a government that was seized by military force. You cannot, at the end of the day, blame Afghans anyway.

So I think in this sense, the suffering that we're seeing right now in Afghanistan, the suffering we're likely to continue to see through a very cold and dark winter, is something that all of us, collectively, the US, China and other countries, can help relieve that suffering of the Afghan people.

They're the ones who should not be suffering. We're not going to end all of the suffering, but I think we can help provide some assistance to some Afghans to at least mitigate that suffering with food and blankets and medicine and other kinds of aid.

Zhou :

Yes, well I can not agree more with what doctor Jones concluded. First of all, I hope this is another new area for China and the United States to cooperate. I forgot to mention that China and the United States have had excellent cooperation in the past on the Afghan issue, we jointly have trained diplomats and technicians. So this is something done in the past. Why don't we continue to do something new?

The second thing is, yeah, exactly as you have said I believe we should not punish Afghan people because of the Taliban, and we cannot change the fact that the Taliban is in power. But we should not punish Afghan people intentionally or unintentionally. And let's join hands to do something to help these people because the winter is coming.

Bonny :

Thank you, thank you both, Seth and senior colonel Zhou, really great positive comments to end on.

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