Afghan Ambassador Javid Ahmad Qaem Photo by: Li Hao/GT
As China fights the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus, Afghan Ambassador Javid Ahmad Qaem (Qaem) voiced Afghanistan's support to China in a video the Afghanistan embassy made. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Afghanistan. In a wide-ranging interview, Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen asked the ambassador about how the two countries' historical friendship facilitates modern interactions, issues relating to the virus epidemic, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Afghan peace process.
GT: How do you see China's efforts in fighting the ongoing epidemic?
Qaem: It was our heartfelt condolences and sympathy with the people and the government of China. The Chinese government has done a tremendous job in trying to curb and contain the virus. The way they blocked that area is remarkable and would have been very difficult in any other country to reaching out to those people there.
More to that, I'm also amazed to see how Chinese people cooperated patiently with the government. It's not an easy time. Nobody can deny that something like a virus is a big challenge for any country. If they couldn't, or if they didn't contain it in Hubei or Wuhan [the epicenter], it was very easy to spread to other cities in China and to other countries.
We have some students studying in Wuhan and some of them are living with [Chinese] families. I'm very grateful to the government of China for providing very continuous support to Afghan students at universities and in hostels. Chinese instructors there regularly check on their health. And if they need anything, we're also in touch with those Chinese professors and instructors.
GT: What is Afghanistan's role in the BRI? What are the challenges in bilateral cooperation?
Qaem: Afghanistan supports the BRI; we actually support any initiative that works for regional connectivity. Afghanistan formally signed the memorandum of understanding on May 16, 2016. Afghanistan is located in a strategic position to connect Central Asia to South Asia. This connection can be used for transport of goods, energy or even people. We can also provide a very short land route from China to Europe which would substantially reduce the transportation time.
In addition, Afghanistan has vast natural resources, including clean energy that can be exploited. So, there is much that Afghanistan can offer in the BRI.
However, I believe there are two factors that affected this partnership to thrive. One is definitely the insecurity and terrorism factor. It is affecting everything. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has been the victim of international terrorism for a long time. Though the roots of terrorism are outside Afghanistan, Afghans are on the frontline of fighting terrorism and have made huge sacrifices. The good news is that Afghanistan and China are on the same page and both countries are firm to fight it.
The second one is the willingness to put resources into this initiative. Afghanistan is not rich so it cannot build the infrastructure itself. However, China is putting huge amount of resources in some other parts of the initiative but not huge enough in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is ready to work jointly with the Chinese government. It would be definitely fruitful for both nations and for the entire region.
GT: What can Afghanistan gain from the BRI?
Qaem: In its core, Afghanistan is the land-bridge between various regions in Asia and the BRI would give it exactly that positioning. On the other side, Afghanistan would give the real meaning to the initiative as it wants to connect various parts of the world. Therefore, these two have the same goal and mutual benefits. Thus, we want to be integrated. We want a peaceful Afghanistan that would be a contributor to the economy of the region. And that's what we love to have. That's why we think regional connectivity or any initiative that connects the region will have a lot of benefits for all the countries in the region.
GT: It is reported that the US and the Taliban will sign a peace deal by the end of this month. How will it affect the Afghan peace process?
Qaem: This is part of the peace process. The US is a partner of Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism. Afghan people and soldiers along with American people and soldiers have fought terrorist groups for the last 18 years. In that sense, the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan for a short time wanted to talk to US first and reach an agreement. Those talks have reached to a point and now the US is ready to sign a condition-based agreement with the Taliban.
The Afghan government welcomes the move. We believe it would open the door for real peace talks between Afghan people and the Taliban. Once those talks start, we can be assured that we are going toward peace and we can put a timeframe on it.
Now the talks are in their initial stages of confidence-building type of steps where there will be a reduction of violence, presidents' exchange on matters of prisoners and those types of thing. But the real talks would start when the Taliban are at the same table with the Afghan people and the Afghan government.
GT: What is Afghanistan's expectation of China's role in the peace process?
Qaem: We do expect that and we have welcomed it. I believe China can be very helpful in the Afghan peace process. There are two reasons for it. First, China has good relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a huge asset and Afghanistan would like to use this asset. China can efficiently work on confidence building between Kabul and Islamabad. Confidence building between Islamabad and Kabul would help the peace process.
Second, China is a big player in the region and the three countries together can achieve new economic heights. The Afghan government also welcomes the effort by the Chinese government to host intra-Afghan dialogue. What we know is that China hosted the Taliban to convince them to join the peace process and we appreciate it. Afghan people have faith in the good intentions of China. It is China's will on how much they would like to get involved.
GT: You have been the Afghan ambassador to China for about three months. How will you promote China-Afghanistan ties?
Qaem: There are huge expectations from me as my job is to strengthen the historical relationship between the two countries further and further. Afghanistan and China have enjoyed cordial relations for thousands of years. Our people have traded with each other for years. Being on the route of the old Silk Road, Afghanistan has welcomed traders from China. The Afghan government was also among the first to recognize the People's Republic of China. Therefore, I'd love to work with the government and the people of China to strengthen economic ties.
The BRI is a very good initiative and I'd like to be actively part of it. But I'd like to see more active engagement from the Chinese side as well. I would like to increase political contacts and work more on the culture and education sides. We share history. So a lot could be arranged with each other. It won't be an easy task. China is a very big country, but I'd love to do what is possible during my tenure.