China could prove ultimate winner in Afghanistan

Updated 27 January 2013
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China could prove ultimate winner in Afghanistan

KABUL: China, long a bystander to the conflict in Afghanistan, is stepping up its involvement as US-led forces prepare to withdraw, attracted by the country’s vast mineral resources but concerned that any post-2014 chaos could embolden Islamist insurgents in its own territory.
Cheered on by the US and other Western governments, which see Asia’s giant as a potentially stabilizing force, China could prove the ultimate winner in Afghanistan — having shed no blood and not much aid.
Security — or the lack of it — remains the key challenge: Chinese enterprises have already bagged three multibillion dollar investment projects, but they won’t be able to go forward unless conditions get safer. While the Chinese do not appear ready to rush into any vacuum left by the withdrawal of foreign troops, a definite shift toward a more hands-on approach to Afghanistan is under way.
Beijing signed a strategic partnership last summer with the war-torn country. This was followed in September with a trip to Kabul by its top security official, the first by a leading Chinese government figure in 46 years, and the announcement that China would train 300 Afghan police officers. China is also showing signs of willingness to help negotiate a peace agreement as NATO prepares to pull out in two years.
It’s a new role for China, as its growing economic might gives it a bigger stake in global affairs. Success, though far from guaranteed, could mean a big payoff for a country hungry for resources to sustain its economic growth and eager to maintain stability in Xinjiang.
“If you are able to see a more or less stable situation in Afghanistan, if it becomes another relatively normal Central Asian state, China will be the natural beneficiary,” says Andrew Small, a China expert at The German Marshall Fund of the United States, an American research institute. “If you look across Central Asia, that is what has already happened. ... China is the only actor who can foot the level of investment needed in Afghanistan to make it succeed and stick it out.”
Over the past decade, China’s trade has boomed with Afghanistan’s resource-rich neighbors in Central Asia. For Turkmenistan, China trade reached 21 percent of GDP in 2011, up from 1 percent five years earlier, according to an Associated Press analysis of International Monetary Fund data. The equivalent figure for Tajikistan is 32 percent of GDP, versus 12 percent in 2006. China’s trade with Afghanistan stood at a modest 1.3 percent of GDP in 2011.
Eyeing Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion worth of unexploited minerals, Chinese companies have acquired rights to extract vast quantities of copper and coal and snapped up the first oil exploration concessions granted to foreigners in decades. China is also eyeing extensive deposits of lithium, uses of which range from batteries to nuclear components.
The Chinese are also showing interest in investing in hydropower, agriculture and construction. Preliminary talks have been held about a direct road link to China across the remote 76-kilometer (47-mile) border between the two countries, according to Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry.
Wang Lian, a Central Asia expert at Beijing University, notes that superpowers have historically been involved in Afghanistan because it is an Asian crossroads — and China would be no exception.
“It’s unquestionable that China bears the responsibility to participate in the political and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan,” he says. “A stable Afghanistan is of vital importance to (China). China can’t afford to stand aside following the US troop withdrawal and in the process of political transition.”
A stable Afghanistan, Wang says, is vital to the security of Xinjiang, China’s far west where Islamic militants are seeking independence. Some have gained sanctuary and training in Pakistan and along the Pakistan-Afghan border. Beijing fears chaos, or victory by the Taleban, would allow these groups greater leeway.
The US is encouraging Beijing to boost its investment and aid in Afghanistan and backs its participation in various peace-seeking initiatives, including a Pakistan-Afghanistan-China forum that met last month for the second time.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai says there has been a greater sharing of intelligence between his country and China, and a joint US-Chinese program to mentor junior Afghan diplomats. In one of the only cases of such cooperation in the world, the US brought 15 diplomats to Washington, D.C., last month, after they had received similar training in China. Similar three-way programs are being developed in health and agriculture.
“Recently, China has taken a keener interest in the security situation and the transition process, and we are more than happy that this is increasing,” Mosazai says. “It’s certainly a change, a welcome change.”
He adds that Beijing could play a crucial role in forging peace in Afghanistan because of its close relations to Pakistan, which has long-standing links to the Taleban, whose leadership is widely believed to operate from the country.
Davood Moradian, who heads the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, says the Chinese are treading carefully, realizing they lack expertise in a complex political landscape that has tripped up other great powers.
“The Chinese are ambiguous. They don’t want the Taleban to return to power and are concerned about a vacuum after 2014 that the Taleban could fill, but they also don’t like having US troops in their neighborhood,” he says.
Should the Chinese step into the peace process, either as a principal intermediary or through Pakistan, they could carry considerable weight.
“They are rare among the actors in Afghanistan in that they are not seen as having been too close to any side of the conflict. All sides are happy to see China’s expanded role,” Small says.
Though China doesn’t want a Taleban takeover, Beijing regards the group as a “legitimate political force,” says Small. Beijing was on its way to recognizing the Taleban as the government of Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks that led to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
The Afghan government has backed off from earlier criticism that the Chinese were not contributing their share to security and reconstruction of the country.
“There was an attitude that the Chinese were just interested in profiting from other people’s loss, the blood and sweat of American and other troops,” says Moradian. “But that is changing.”

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Associated Press reporters Yu Bing in Beijing and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this story.


Indonesian university wages war on Daesh — with animations

Updated 20 April 2018
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Indonesian university wages war on Daesh — with animations

  • Films tapped to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers
  • 20-year-old Syrian war veteran says she regrets falling victim to Daesh online propaganda

JAKARTA: Ahmad met his friends Udin and Ari at a mosque, and Ari asked him why he had not been around for some time. 

When Ahmad said he had just returned from Syria, Ari replied in awe that he, too, wanted to go there to wage "jihad".

When a teacher approached them and asked Ahmad the same question, Ari replied, saying: “He (Ahmad) just returned from Syria to wage jihad. Isn’t that cool?” But Ahmad told both men the caliphate propaganda was false and many innocent people had been killed in the name of the caliphate.

“They were Muslims just like us,” he said. The teacher closed the conversation by saying that Ari had learned his lesson and should understand he did not have to go far to wage jihad. The teacher then asked Ari to join him assisting elderly people.

“This is also jihad,” he said.

Ahmad, Udin and Ari are characters in an animated film entitled “Kembali dari Syria,” or “Returning from Syria,” produced by the Center for the Study of Islam and Social Transformation (Cisform) at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta. The short film — one of 20 animated clips produced to counter extremism among teenagers — was launched in Jakarta on Wednesday, following the February release of the other productions in Yogyakarta.

Mohammed Wildan, Cisform’s director, told Arab News the films had been made to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers.

“We decided to develop these animated short clips to expand our reach. They will be more accessible through social media,” Wildan said.

Most of the clips are between 90 seconds and three minutes long, depending on the content.

Wildan said the real challenge was to condense the message with the correct reference to Qur’an and package it in a maximum three-minute clip.

“We are careful when choosing our arguments that cite the Qur’an and the Hadith,” Wildan said.

Lecturers from the university had offered their expertise on specific subjects, he said.

Also present at the film launch was 20-year-old Nur Shadrina Khairadhania, who went to Syria as a teenager with her extended family. She shared her own account of emigrating to the so-called caliphate and explained why going to Syria to wage jihad was wrong.

Speaking to an audience of high school students, Khairadhania said that after her interest in Islam began to grow, she fell victim to Daesh online propaganda introduced to her by an uncle.

“I watched their videos, which showed that life would be really good in the caliphate. I was enticed to join,” Khairadhania said.

She convinced her father, Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, a high-ranking civil servant in Batam, Riau province, as well as her mother and two siblings, to migrate to Syria.

A group of 26 extended members of her family, including two uncles and a grandmother, left for Syria in 2015. After 19 managed to cross the border with Turkey, they quickly discovered that life in the caliphate was very different to the propaganda.

“Everything is contrary to Islamic teaching. A male family member was forced to fight and was put in detention for months when he refused,” she said. 

The family tried for a year to leave and finally returned to Indonesia in August 2017. 

Family members completed a rehabilitation program run by the national counterterrorism agency, but now her father and uncle are facing terrorism charges. 

Rebuilding her life had been difficult because of the stigma of her past, she said.

“But God gave me a second chance to live. This is probably my jihad, to tell the truth to people so no one will be deceived like us,” she said.