The internal security services of China and Afghanistan signed a formal agreement at Kabul on Saturday to have a liaison relationship between them. The agreement, inter alia, provides for exchange of security-related intelligence, counter-terrorism co-operation and training of Afghan police officers by China.
The agreement was signed by officials of the two countries during an unannounced four-hour hush-hush visit to Kabul by Zhou Yongkang, a member of the standing committee of the politburo of the Communist Party of China, who is also the minister for public security.
The ministry of public security is responsible for internal intelligence and security. In addition, it also supervises the work of the police and the criminal justice system all over China. Counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and counter-intelligence are among its responsibilities. The external intelligence service of China is called the ministry of state security.
Officials in charge of internal security and counter-terrorism in the two countries have been in informal touch with each other in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, of which Afghanistan is an observer. An agreement to formalise and upgrade this relationship was taken during a visit of President Hamid Karzai to Beijing in June to attend an SCO summit.
The formal establishment of a liaison relationship would enable the two services to exchange intelligence regarding the activities of the extremist organisations of the Xinjiang province of China and the Central Asian Republics.
There has been close co-operation among the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group (also from Uzbekistan), the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (of Xinjiang) and Al Qaeda. All these organisations have their command and control centres in North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and their terrorists often transit through Afghan territory on their way to Xinjiang in China and the Central Asian Republics.
While the level of extremist activity by the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province of China from their sanctuaries in North Waziristan has remained high, there has been a decrease in the activities of the Uzbek groups and Al Qaeda in the CARs.
Despite this, Chinese concerns over the remnants of the Uzbek groups and Al Qaeda operating from Pakistani territory remain high due to the threats that they could pose to energy supplies from the CARs through pipelines to China.
While Chinese officials outwardly speak highly of the co-operation from the Pakistani intelligence for dealing with threats from these groups, they have not been quite satisfied in reality. All terrorist incidents in Xinjiang have had a Pakistani link either in the form of training, or sanctuaries or recruitment.
Recently, the Pakistan government has terminated the contract given by it to a Singapore company for the running of the Gwadar port on the Mekran coast in Balochistan constructed with Chinese assistance. This port, which was meant to meet the external trade requirements of Western China, Afghanistan and the CARs, in addition to that of Pakistan, has not got going due to various teething troubles.
There have been reports in sections of the Pakistani media that Islamabad has been pressing a Chinese company to take over the responsibility for the running of the Gwadar port.
While the port is very well equipped from the point of view of modern installations, its security cover is weak due to the disturbed situation in Balochistan and the activities of anti-Beijing Uighur and Uzbek elements in that area. If the Chinese take over the responsibility for the maintenance of the port, its security will be a matter of major concern to them.
Since the co-operation of the Pakistani intelligence agencies may not be satisfactory in this regard, they may have to depend on the Afghan intelligence services for the necessary flow of intelligence.
It is interesting and significant that Zhou flew secretly to Kabul after a two-day visit to Singapore where considerable information will be available with the local port management experts regarding the kind of difficulties the Singapore company faced in Gwadar before it decided to pull out.
Zhou seems to have gone directly to Kabul from Singapore and not through Pakistan. It is not known whether he stopped over in Pakistan on his way back.
According to media reports, during the talks in Kabul, Zhou signed agreements on increased security and economic cooperation, including a deal to help "train, fund and equip the Afghan police".
The Xinhua news agency of China quoted him as saying, "It is in line with the fundamental interests of the two nations for China and Afghanistan to strengthen a strategic and cooperative partnership which is also conducive to regional peace, stability and development."
No details regarding the economic co-operation agreement signed during the visit are available. The Chinese state-owned company called the China Metallurgical Group operates a $3 billion (about Rs 16,800 crore) copper mine in the eastern Logar province. The project was expected to go into production in 2013, but there has reportedly been a delay due to security reasons.
This is the first time since 1966 that a senior Chinese party and government leader visited Kabul. In 1966, then President Liu Shaoqi visited Kabul.
Image: China's President Hu chats with Afghanistan's President Karzai in Beijing in this archival picture
Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters