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What to do with Afghanistan ?

17:03, January 13, 2010

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By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online

For a second time, China says no to the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his suggestion of sending troops to Afghanistan, following his 2008 remarks that China should contribute its troops to the international force that the U.S. and U.K. make up the bulk at the Afghan front line fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda, which China then squarely and strongly denied.

"Except for the U.N. peacekeeping operations approved by the UN Security Council, China never sends combat troops abroad," again states the Chinese Foreign Ministry in reply to Mr. Brown's repeated suggestion put forward at the turn of 2009.

Meanwhile, the majority of the Chinese public also warns the government to steer clear of the quagmire of the Afghanistan War, in which the U.S.-led Western powers have been bogged down for eight years. The sweeping and seemingly escalated crack-down on Islamic extremists has thus far extended to the abutting Pakistani tribal areas and might be widened to Yemen and Somalia.

An Online survey ---Should China send troops to Afghanistan---conducted by People Forum indicates that the public opinions are divided over the matter with the preferential choice tilting to "No". Many hold that if China sends combat troops to this behind- the- times country, it will damage China's peace-loving national image and may induce some unnecessary trouble, as in so doing, China will be exposed to the terrorist threat. If China gets engaged in the protracted war, mega Chinese cities, as well as Chinese overseas staff and assets, would tend to become major targets of the die-hard terrorism, they maintain.

Even worse, sending combat troops to Afghanistan would inevitably trigger a new round of "China threat" clamor, giving an excuse to some Westerners to elaborate their theory that China, as an emerging power, is bound to expand its military strength eagerly and aggressively. Meanwhile, it might also arouse some neighboring countries' suspicions, as they still believe that a rising China would break the regional military balance and pose a threat to their security. Despite that fact that China has actually embarked on a "peaceful rise", and contributed steadily and significantly to the global and regional peace and development, some neighbors' distrust toward China with its growing strength and influence has never diminished in the least.

In a backdrop of such kind, venturing abroad to fight terrorists siding with NATO forces, other than peacekeeping missions, is likely to place China into a political dilemma.

On the surface, China has also become entwined in the "War on Terror", as it seems evident that it faces a potential terror from Islamic extremists in the far-western Xinjiang Autonomous Region, which shares a border with Afghanistan. Thereby, the Western powers readily come to the assumption that China's uncertainty about its own geopolitical security limits its willingness to engage in the international intervention unfolded right now on the Afghan soil.

But the fact goes like this: if the legitimacy of the so-called NATO legitimate action in Afghanistan is itself in question, and if even the U.S. President Barack Obama has laid down the timetable for a complete withdrawal, why should China send troops to a battle with the dim future, and perhaps, with the risk to ruin its international image as a peace loving nation and its political ideology always in pursuit of the settlement through peace talks. Additionally, a trail of setbacks and bloodsheds as a result of the intensified counter-insurgency attacks has further worsened the situation.

Just to cite some stunningly glaring examples: the recent killings of seven CIA operatives by an al-Qaeda double agent; the deaths of four Canadian soldiers and a British newspaper correspondent, plus the steady attrition of U.S. and U.K. forces, all this illustrating the "black depths" of ongoing violence.

This, also, sends people into pondering what exactly should be done before the deteriorating overall situation becomes irreversible? Ironically, the NATO allies are doing nothing but contribute to a more gloomy atmosphere with their drones and guns in such a war-torn land, where 80 percent of the population is dependent on farming, which is often defined as opium production, where even the basic infrastructure is lacking or always destroyed by the Taliban militants, where the government power could extend no further than its capital, Kabul, and where almost all the government budget comes from foreign aid.

Facing the Afghan reality, which is at appalling odds with the Western concept of a normal civil society in every respect, NOTO allies should pause to give it more than a passing thought----what exactly to do to reverse the setbacks ?

"The situation cannot continue as it is, if we are to succeed in Afghanistan," as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon conceded at a Security Council session lately.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Gavin Jon MowatGavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.