Post-2021 Afghanistan has been Engaged with China’s BRI: Dr. Akram Zaheer

Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated since the United States and its European allies decided to withdraw from a two decades-long mission in the country. The US presence was viewed by China as a geopolitical threat, as was the Soviet military presence in the 1980s. China has concerns on a number of issues. Its ongoing concern, the last time the Taliban was in power, is that Afghanistan could become a safe haven for militant groups that could potentially target China. China’s economic and political interests in the region as a whole have grown significantly since the BRI project.

Many scholars see China as an opportunity to increase its influence in the region after the talks between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Taliban leaders.  The Chinese government has long sought to strike deals with the Taliban, focusing mainly on relations with Uyghur groups. The recent meeting between Mullah Baradar and Wang Yi in Tianjin was extremely popular; the two sides have been in talks for decades. However, Beijing is pragmatic about the realities of power in Afghanistan; it has always been uncomfortable with the Taliban’s ideological agenda. China wants to see them compromise with the other political forces in the country, not revive them after a military victory. The Chinese government fears the implications of its success in Afghanistan for militancy in the face of the threat, including the Pakistani Taliban that may challenge to CPEC.

Beijing is also concerned about the threats of confusion in Afghanistan, which is seen as a strategic trap that has undermined other major powers heavily involved. So, as it watches what is happening now, there is a need to play a more active political role to deal with the consequences of United States and NATO’s withdrawal, Beijing feels a lot of fear about it.

          For China, There are certainly considerable trade and economic interests in Afghanistan. Major investment project such as the Aynak copper mine and the Amu Darya energy project, which are stalled for years. There has been a lot of talk about Afghanistan’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, including China-Pakistan Economic Corridor ties, but Beijing believes stability in Afghanistan must be proceed for serious economic commitments. Beijing has also chosen not to build cross-border infrastructure via the Wakhan Corridor, despite requests from the Afghan government. If Afghanistan has a security and political environment, China will certainly play an important investment role – but it will be very cautious. At present, Beijing is very concerned about the recent attacks on Chinese nationals working on projects in Pakistan. Therefore, to think about new project in Afghanistan, may be dangerous.

          Taliban’s direct contacts with Xinjiang are minimal. Virtually all attacks in China are entirely local and unrelated to international terrorist networks. The border is closed and there is no fear of a literal spread from neighboring Badakhshan. Potential cross-border issues focus on Central Asia and Pakistan not with China, which is one of the main reasons, Chinese security presence on the Tajik border with Afghanistan. In the long run, Chinese concerns about the Islamic Movement in East Turkestan are mismatched with the threat shown by any Uyghurs trapped in a militant network in the region

The civil war in Syria has seen the Turkestan Islamic Party emerge as a more capable actor than its predecessors and has a presence in Afghanistan. China is also concerned about the return of fighters from northern Syria. Since the late 2000s, China has also been the target of various other militant and terrorist groups in Xinjiang and partly to Pakistan. The Taliban whatever promises they make to the Chinese government and are ready to turn a blind eye to the situation in Xinjiang but the environment have created in which many of these groups are likely to thrive. While it is incomprehensible to expect attacks on Chinese soil, but it is also clear that threats against soft Chinese targets in the region have increased..

The Afghanistan situation brings back a massive influx of refugees in Europe, and all that are political. Afghans are already appearing in large numbers in Turkey as they flee violence and the consequences of the Taliban takeover. Unsurprisingly, many European states have seen more gradual and circumstantial US evacuations than the current scenario. Afghanistan is a wonderful country where the interests of China, Europeans and Americans are relatively intertwined. Beijing wants to see it as a stable political settlement and has been instrumental in reconciliation talks on various issues. China’s close ally in the region, Pakistan, has been the main host and support for the Taliban, providing them with an additional avenue of influence, whether it is always ready to use it effectively or can in In the coming years, however, Beijing will focus on securing its bilateral interests in Afghanistan and use its diplomatic energy in the region to deal with current events particularly withdrawal of United States from Afghanistan. There will certainly be opportunities for European states to trade with China on Afghanistan. It is expected that Beijing will place such a priority on such active cooperation with Europe at this time.

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