The Kabul times, Afghanistan news, us, China & World News.
Opinion

China eyes Afghanistan at a pivotal moment

By: Ben Reynolds

Afghanistan is a lynchpin of any power’s attempts to control the region—hence the twenty-year U.S. occupation. The country occupies a central geographic position and has potential for resource extraction, if it were not a major source of regional instability. China’s Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, a remote region perfect for cross-border smuggling. China is thus likely to take a more active role in Afghanistan’s future, at the very least in pursuit of its own “war on terror.”
China’s most basic interest in Afghanistan will be a desire to limit the flow of fighters and material support to the separatist movement in Xinjiang. Afghanistan’s extremely rugged geography and the presence of many competing Islamist groups will make this a challenge. Even in the event of a total victory, it is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to exert real control over the entire country, not to mention the likelihood of struggles between competing Taliban factions like the Yaqoob and Haqqani networks. If China wants to make a pragmatic bargain with the Taliban—say, “we provide economic aid if you help us isolate the separatists”—with whom should it negotiate? The Yaqoob network is seen as more moderate and accommodating, while the Haqqani network is allied with al Qaeda, but the Haqqanis are also closely tied to the intelligence services of Pakistan, China’s close ally. What’s more, can either network realistically promise to deliver what China seeks? The diplomatic complexities here are immense. These details also make it more difficult to read Chinese intentions from the outside. For instance, China pushed Pakistan to release Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, a “moderate” who has received overtures from India. Does this mean that China will place its bets with the Yaqoob network, or that it is simply hedging an intra-Taliban struggle? It is difficult to say. Perhaps a reader could email the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Guoanbu for clarification.
China also has to consider the regional strategic context and its own economic strategy. Afghanistan has been the site of a couple of stalled Chinese resource extraction projects, none of which is likely to make progress in the event of a civil war. The same can be said for any hypothetical infrastructure investment that could connect the region and shore up China’s energy security. Here, China’s abiding interest is in an end to the fighting and a successful peace process, as seen by the repeated insistence that the U.S. slow its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just as crucially, China must concern itself with the future of Pakistan. While Pakistan has long maintained ties with the Afghan Taliban, a total victory across the border could embolden Islamists in Pakistan itself who have already attacked China’s substantial interests in the country. Balancing here will be very difficult. China has no interest in the destabilization of its closest ally in Central Asia.
China’s numerous concerns in Afghanistan point to a strategy of pragmatic accommodation with the Taliban, with broader goals including the cessation of fighting in the country and its integration into regional economic and diplomatic networks. China has little ability to do this alone—the broader fate of Afghanistan depends on regional powers like India and Pakistan deciding to support peace over a proxy war.
Here, China may have to accept the limits of its own power. Having benefited from the U.S. example, China is unlikely to attempt its own military intervention in the graveyard of empires. The months that follow the U.S. withdrawal will offer key clues as to the future of China’s role in Afghanistan. A new chapter in the country’s history is emerging, one which will be written in Central Asia. Afghanistan is a lynchpin of any power’s attempts to control the region—hence the twenty-year U.S. occupation. The country occupies a central geographic position and has potential for resource extraction, if it were not a major source of regional instability. China’s Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, a remote region perfect for cross-border smuggling. China is thus likely to take a more active role in Afghanistan’s future, at the very least in pursuit of its own “war on terror.”
China’s most basic interest in Afghanistan will be a desire to limit the flow of fighters and material support to the separatist movement in Xinjiang. Afghanistan’s extremely rugged geography and the presence of many competing Islamist groups will make this a challenge. Even in the event of a total victory, it is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to exert real control over the entire country, not to mention the likelihood of struggles between competing Taliban factions like the Yaqoob and Haqqani networks. If China wants to make a pragmatic bargain with the Taliban—say, “we provide economic aid if you help us isolate the separatists”—with whom should it negotiate? The Yaqoob network is seen as more moderate and accommodating, while the Haqqani network is allied with al Qaeda, but the Haqqanis are also closely tied to the intelligence services of Pakistan, China’s close ally. What’s more, can either network realistically promise to deliver what China seeks? The diplomatic complexities here are immense. These details also make it more difficult to read Chinese intentions from the outside. For instance, China pushed Pakistan to release Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, a “moderate” who has received overtures from India. Does this mean that China will place its bets with the Yaqoob network, or that it is simply hedging an intra-Taliban struggle? It is difficult to say. Perhaps a reader could email the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Guoanbu for clarification.
China also has to consider the regional strategic context and its own economic strategy. Afghanistan has been the site of a couple of stalled Chinese resource extraction projects, none of which is likely to make progress in the event of a civil war. The same can be said for any hypothetical infrastructure investment that could connect the region and shore up China’s energy security. Here, China’s abiding interest is in an end to the fighting and a successful peace process, as seen by the repeated insistence that the U.S. slow its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just as crucially, China must concern itself with the future of Pakistan. While Pakistan has long maintained ties with the Afghan Taliban, a total victory across the border could embolden Islamists in Pakistan itself who have already attacked China’s substantial interests in the country. Balancing here will be very difficult. China has no interest in the destabilization of its closest ally in Central Asia.
China’s numerous concerns in Afghanistan point to a strategy of pragmatic accommodation with the Taliban, with broader goals including the cessation of fighting in the country and its integration into regional economic and diplomatic networks. China has little ability to do this alone—the broader fate of Afghanistan depends on regional powers like India and Pakistan deciding to support peace over a proxy war.
Here, China may have to accept the limits of its own power. Having benefited from the U.S. example, China is unlikely to attempt its own military intervention in the graveyard of empires. The months that follow the U.S. withdrawal will offer key clues as to the future of China’s role in Afghanistan. A new chapter in the country’s history is emerging, one which will be written in Central Asia.Afghanistan is a lynchpin of any power’s attempts to control the region—hence the twenty-year U.S. occupation. The country occupies a central geographic position and has potential for resource extraction, if it were not a major source of regional instability. China’s Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, a remote region perfect for cross-border smuggling. China is thus likely to take a more active role in Afghanistan’s future, at the very least in pursuit of its own “war on terror.”
China’s most basic interest in Afghanistan will be a desire to limit the flow of fighters and material support to the separatist movement in Xinjiang. Afghanistan’s extremely rugged geography and the presence of many competing Islamist groups will make this a challenge. Even in the event of a total victory, it is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to exert real control over the entire country, not to mention the likelihood of struggles between competing Taliban factions like the Yaqoob and Haqqani networks. If China wants to make a pragmatic bargain with the Taliban—say, “we provide economic aid if you help us isolate the separatists”—with whom should it negotiate? The Yaqoob network is seen as more moderate and accommodating, while the Haqqani network is allied with al Qaeda, but the Haqqanis are also closely tied to the intelligence services of Pakistan, China’s close ally. What’s more, can either network realistically promise to deliver what China seeks? The diplomatic complexities here are immense. These details also make it more difficult to read Chinese intentions from the outside. For instance, China pushed Pakistan to release Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, a “moderate” who has received overtures from India. Does this mean that China will place its bets with the Yaqoob network, or that it is simply hedging an intra-Taliban struggle? It is difficult to say. Perhaps a reader could email the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Guoanbu for clarification.
China also has to consider the regional strategic context and its own economic strategy. Afghanistan has been the site of a couple of stalled Chinese resource extraction projects, none of which is likely to make progress in the event of a civil war. The same can be said for any hypothetical infrastructure investment that could connect the region and shore up China’s energy security. Here, China’s abiding interest is in an end to the fighting and a successful peace process, as seen by the repeated insistence that the U.S. slow its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just as crucially, China must concern itself with the future of Pakistan. While Pakistan has long maintained ties with the Afghan Taliban, a total victory across the border could embolden Islamists in Pakistan itself who have already attacked China’s substantial interests in the country. Balancing here will be very difficult. China has no interest in the destabilization of its closest ally in Central Asia.
China’s numerous concerns in Afghanistan point to a strategy of pragmatic accommodation with the Taliban, with broader goals including the cessation of fighting in the country and its integration into regional economic and diplomatic networks. China has little ability to do this alone—the broader fate of Afghanistan depends on regional powers like India and Pakistan deciding to support peace over a proxy war.
Here, China may have to accept the limits of its own power. Having benefited from the U.S. example, China is unlikely to attempt its own military intervention in the graveyard of empires. The months that follow the U.S. withdrawal will offer key clues as to the future of China’s role in Afghanistan. A new chapter in the country’s history is emerging, one which will be written in Central Asia.

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan news, us, China & World News.