China steps up Afghan role as Western pullout nears

Sun Jun 3, 2012 12:58pm EDT
 
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By Sanjeev Miglani

KABUL (Reuters) - China and Afghanistan will announce a plan in the coming days to deepen their ties, Afghan officials say, the strongest signal yet that Beijing wants a role beyond economic partnership as Western forces prepare to leave the country.

China has kept a low political profile through much of the decade-long international effort to stabilize Afghanistan, choosing instead to pursue an economic agenda, including locking in future supply from Afghanistan's untapped mineral resources.

As the U.S.-led coalition winds up military engagement and hands over security to local forces, Beijing, along with regional powers, is gradually stepping up involvement in an area that remains at risk from being overrun by Islamist insurgents.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai will hold talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Beijing this week, where they will lay out a plan governing future ties, including security cooperation.

Afghanistan has signed a series of strategic partnership agreements including with the United States, India and Britain among others in recent months, described by one Afghan official as taking out "insurance cover" for the period after the end of 2014 when foreign troops leave.

"The president of Afghanistan will be meeting the president of China in Beijing and what will happen is the elevation of our existing, solid relationship to a new level, to a strategic level," Janan Mosazai, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry, told Reuters.

Details of an agreement will be fleshed out later, he said.

"It would certainly cover a broad spectrum which includes cooperation in the security sector, a very significant involvement in the economic sector, and the cultural field.   Continued...