Mustafa Amin writes from Kabul: At least 35 killed and 80 injured in four bomb blasts in Zaranji, in south west Afghanistan. The Coalition forces have lost more men in 2012 than in the whole of 2011. What is the message? Military force is not the answer to the Afghan problem. Diplomacy will have to come into play before an end to the bloodletting is in sight. The US and its allies are desperately trying to come to some understanding with the Taliban before they leave in 2014. It is a vain hope as the Taliban know that the country will fall into their lap after the foreigners leave. There is only one power that is capable of bringing the various sides in the Afghan conflict together: China. So what can the Chinese offer?
The Chinese know that civil wars have to run their course. Both sides have to realise that there is no point in further bloodshed. Both sides have also to believe that they can gain something from a negotiated settlement. So what type of deal would the Chinese put on the table?
All the warring parties would send representatives to Beijing. Initially they would have no contact with one another. They would talk only to the Chinese. The latter would be seeking to understand what terms the various parties would accept.
The United States and its coalition parties have failed in Afghanistan. The aim of nation building, laying the foundations of democracy and a market economy has proved misguided. Afghans want their own way forward. They have no interest in trying to create another America in the hills and deserts of their country. So the Chinese start with a huge advantage. They have never attempted to impose their way of life on the Afghans.
China is a dictatorship. It will accept a dictatorship in Afghanistan if that is what the warring parties favour. So what can the Chinese offer?
They would accept a deal which will install the Taliban as the dominant power. They know that the Taliban will be fiercely resisted in the north. Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmen will not accept Taliban rule. So the deal would be that these ethnic groups would be guaranteed autonomy within Afghanistan. The other concern for China is to agree with the Taliban that they do not attempt to infiltrate fighters into Xinjiang autonomous region. Beijing is very concerned that after the Coalition leaves in 2014 insurgents will move into Central Asia and then into Xinjiang.
What other carrot can Beijing offer the various Afghan groups? Loans to develop the economy. Afghanistan is potentially one of the richest countries of Asia. The Chinese are already engaged in a huge copper mine project. There is oil and gas in the north and this could be exported to Pakistan and India. The opportunities are limitless.
Needless to say China would benefit hugely by aiding in the development of the Afghan economy.
So the Chinese have two compelling reasons to step in and offer their good offices. One is the need to prevent insurgents moving into Central Asia and Xinjiang. The other is commercial.
Diplomacy is a long term game. The Chinese are renowned for their patience. They are the best hope for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Pakistan is already in their tent. Can they bring Afghanistan in as well?