Russia has been constantly taunting Washington in the recent months about the latter’s plans to keep a long-term military presence in Afghanistan. China is also widely rumored to harbor similar views as Russia, but it kept its thoughts to itself. Russian foreign minister has been quite outspoken on the issue whereas his Chinese counterpart avoided public articulations on the subject.
Thus, the Russian and Chinese reactions to the signing of the US-Afghan strategic pact in Kabul on Tuesday present a case study. Neither Moscow nor Beijing has uttered an official word yet. Of course, they don’t have to, since the US and Afghanistan are sovereign countries and strictly speaking, it is none of their business that Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai got together and put their signatures on a common document. But then, it is a silly argument, since the strategic pact is also about the fate of the ISAF mission, which indeed carries a United Nations mandate that was sanctioned by Russia and China along with the western troika in the Security Council.
Meanwhile, Russian official media also kept mum about the historic development in Kabul. Xinhua, on the other hand, has come out with a commentary with Beijing dateline. The curious thing is that the commentary acknowledges that the US-Afghan strategic pact is “perceived as beginning a new chapter in US-Afghan relations and paving the way for a continued military presence central asia after NATO troops withdraw in 2014,” but it fails to offer a word of criticism about this development of immense consequence to the geopolitics of the region.
The commentary instead takes a detour to proceed to evaluate the prospects of the US’ strategy, the formidable challenges that lie ahead and it finally concludes that the strategic pact is “just the first step in the next stage of the US’ strategy for the region.” In a cooperative spirit, Xinhua offers some good advice as well as to how Washington could make its strategy work: “US should concentrate on plugging the loopholes in security and strive for a smooth transition leading up to the withdrawal of the NATO forces.”
Significantly, government newspaper China Daily also featured a commentary drawing attention to the US’ travails in dealing with Pakistan. It mocks at Pakistan’s claim that it knew not that Osama bin laden was living in Abbottabad all those years or that he begat two children in Pakistani hospitals. It underlines that Islamabad even went back on its word to conduct a decent, transparent enquiry about the bin Laden affair.
The commentary stops just short of calling the Pakistanis as liars and it somewhat commiserates with Uncle Sam’s plight that despite such manifest duplicity and doublespeak, Washington is still compelled to deal with that country because it has nuclear weapons and its role remains important in the fight against al-Qaeda. “Many believe Islamabad’s cooperation is essential for getting any Afghan deal to stick, allowing the US to withdraw troops.” Hey, is this the ‘all-weather friend’ speaking? Beijing seems to be marking its distance from the Pakistani shenanigans. To be sure, some food for thought. The China Daily commentary is here.
– May 4, 2012