Mian Ali Haider is an engineering student at UET Lahore with a keen interest in local as well global politics.
In the Backdrop of 9/11
In the year 1988, soon after the ruinous defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US emerged as the sole superpower of the modern world. The withdrawal of the CIA from Afghanistan as a result of the Geneva Accord set a perception that the Cold War, which started soon after World War II, has reached its conclusive end. As China was not such a ponderous threat back in the year 1988, the implications of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan were not apparent at that time.
However, once the US left Central Asia, for a while, without demilitarizing the Afghan mujahedeen, a group known as “Al-Qaeda” emerged and ultimately lead towards the most destructive act of terrorism in American history – the 9/11 attacks. Soon after 9/11, the US declared Al-Qaeda as the most imminent threat for the West and decided to invade Afghanistan under the flag of a “War Against Terrorism”. This move wasn’t considered as another attempt of the US to keep a check on Central Asia and China, Iran, and Russia because the UN Security Council resolution under which the US invaded Afghanistan was supported by all the countries including China, Iran, and Russia.
The Iraq Invasion and War Against Terrorism
In the year 2003, when Afghanistan was swiftly moving towards stability, the US invaded Iraq under the flag of disarming it. At that point, Iran and other Central Asian states jumped to the conclusion that the US is no more sincere in the War on Terror and it wants to keep Central Asia destabilized to counter its emerging rivals, especially China. A surge was seen in the development of relations between Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and several Central Asian states, especially Iran and Russia, in the year 2003 and afterward.
US-Taliban Peace Process
Jumping straight to February 29, 2020, the US and the Taliban ultimately reached a peace agreement after an elongated conflict of almost 20 years. This elongated conflict possessed a series of American blunders –including waging a war against all the Taliban without exempting those attracted towards the peaceful solution and allowing India to operate in Afghanistan, generating a threat for Pakistan – which ultimately affected the peace in Central Asia.
But this series of blunders was not over even during these peace talks, since the US bypassed the Afghan national government while setting the terms with the Afghan Taliban. This not only encouraged the Afghan Taliban’s morale about their claim of establishing Emirate e Islamia but also discouraged the Afghan National Army in their war against the Afghan Taliban. Hence, the US is trying to throw Afghanistan into another civil war which will be a thousand times more destructive than the previous one in the said state.
Xinjiang Province and Peace in Afghanistan
The geographical location of Xinjiang province is very important as this province possesses the border between China and Afghanistan. So, the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan will, later on, be triggered after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in September. The intentional attempt by the US to sustain instability in Afghanistan through a rushed withdrawal has serious implications for China, as it can be seen as an attempt to keep China in a problematic position.
US-Taliban Alliance Against China
If we have a look at the US-Taliban peace talks, it is evident that the US went out of the way in softening its principles and key stances while shaping the agreement. This is another clue towards the emerging US-Taliban alliance against China in the name of the Uyghur humanitarian crisis, which can be expected to be synonymous with the one we have witnessed against the Soviet Union. However, this time the conditions and realities are completely different from the past.
47th G7 Summit: A Declaration Against Authoritative States
The 47th Summit of the G7 nations was held from 11–13 June 2021 in Cornwall, United Kingdom. The conference ended with a lengthy agenda on climate change and pandemic-related policies. However, another major aspect of the summit was countering the increasing influence of authoritative states, like China and Russia, on the world order. This was the first time that all of the rich democracies of the West came up collectively against the dominance of China, under the leadership of US President Joe Biden.
“With regard to China, and competition in the global economy, we will continue to consult on collective approaches to challenging non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy,” said the G7 communique.
Timing of the Conference, the US Withdrawal, and Brzezinski
The timing of this statement given by the G7 group is very important in the context of the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan and when understanding its implications. This scenario can be best understood by one of the statements from the former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Recently, in his interview with a German magazine, he mentioned that Zbigniew Brzezinski once told him that the US supported militarized Islam against the Soviet Union to absolute its policy of producing an arch of crisis around all its rivals in Asia and the Middle East, especially Russia.
From this, one can draw a picture of why the US is more interested in its swift withdrawal instead of the endangered peace in Afghanistan, which will have adverse implications for all the neighboring states including China, Iran, and Russia.
Agenda Against China
On the 2nd day of the G7 summit, the meeting of foreign ministers of the G7 nations concluded with a detailed agenda against the authoritative regime of China. The ministers emphasized that being democratic nations, the G7 states are extremely worried about the human rights situation of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China.
In a communique issued in May 2021, the G7 members called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We continue to be deeply concerned about human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang and in Tibet, especially the targeting of Uyghurs, members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, and the existence of a large-scale network of ‘political re-education’ camps, and reports of forced labor systems and forced sterilization.”
Furthermore, on the final day of the summit, all the heads of states agreed to propose and fund an alternative plan to counter the Belt and Road Initiative of China.
Concern Against Belt and Road Initiative
The G7 nations have shown their concern over the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China and categorized it as a non-democratic initiative to control the poor nations of the Third World. The G7 leaders considered it as an attempt to economically colonize the weak nations when they will be unable to refund the loans China is issuing in the name of BRI.
US President Joe Biden, in his press talk, addressed the issue with an alternative plan. Biden proposed a democratic alternative to BRI named “Build Back Better” and categorized it as an environment-friendly initiative. Biden emphasized that rich democracies should fund and raise billions of dollars for this infrastructure development project so that the west can successfully counter the BRI of China.
President Joe Biden, while addressing the summit, said, “We also made a momentous commitment at the G7 to help meet more than the $40 trillion need that exists for infrastructure in the developing world. I put forward an idea that we named the Build Back Better World Partnership, which we’re calling it B3W. The point is that what’s happening is that China has its Belt and Road Initiative, and we think that there’s a much more equitable way to provide for the needs of countries around the world. And so it’s a values-driven, high standard, transparent financing mechanism we’re going to provide and support projects in four key areas – climate, health, digital technology, and gender equity. And we believe that will not only be good for the countries, but it’d be good for the entire world and represent values that our democracies represent and not autocratic lack of values.”
The Belt and Road Initiative in the Context of Afghanistan
The Belt and Road Initiative of China involves infrastructural development projects that cover almost all the key nations of Asia and are widespread to few countries of North America. The most important part of this BRI lies within Central Asia, of which CPEC is also a part.
It can be seen that the US is so unhappy with this initiative, that a surge in the withdrawal of US troops will ultimately lead to an arch of crisis in Afghanistan which will adversely affect the progress of BRI in the region. So, one of the implications of this swift and intentional withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan can be categorized as an attempt to sabotage BRI in the region, to decline the influence of China on the world order.
China’s Strategic Assessment of Afghanistan
After the Doha Accord between the Taliban and the US, China doesn’t seem much sanguine about the implications of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. China is of the view that the US-brooked deal will lead Afghanistan to nowhere except instability and crisis.
China and Afghanistan in a Historical Context
The only interest China had in Afghanistan was regarding its peace, as China always considered peace in Afghanistan mandatory for the stability and progress in the region. Historically, it is evident that China never had any intention to invade Afghanistan, considering it a graveyard of empires.
However, China has a conflicting assessment of the US invasion of Afghanistan. On one hand, China considered the US invasion as a leading factor towards the massive radicalization of the Muslims in the region—including those of China’s northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. On the other hand, China enjoyed an ideal post-Cold War scenario where the US was too busy in its wars against terror to keep an eye on the elevating economic and strategic impact of China.
China’s Minimal Economic Interest in Afghanistan
Despite a peak in Beijing’s “Going Out” strategy, Chinese companies didn’t seem much interested in Afghanistan. There was no specific demonstration of economic interest by China-based firms, except for the Aynak copper mine in 2008 and the Amu Darya oil exploration in 2011.
The security situation in Afghanistan seems to be the biggest concern for Beijing. Apparently, China considers Afghanistan as a key state in the success of BRI, yet Chinese investment in Afghanistan has been minimal, totaling $2.2 million in 2016 and a mere $400 million in all investment stocks by the end of 2017. However, from 2005 to 2013, China’s share of investment in Afghanistan was 79%.
As one of the consequences of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the instability in the state will largely influence these interests. Hence, understanding the implications of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, China seeks to play the role of mediator in the conflict to lower security risks to its interests.
China’s Position on the Internal Situation of Afghanistan
China seems to be least optimistic about the implications of the US withdrawal on the internal stability of Afghanistan. Beijing is not expecting a favorable internal security condition in Afghanistan as the US is trying to swiftly move away from the chaos.
China has always tried to play its role in the internal stability of Afghanistan. However, it is not expecting any conclusive results in the intra Afghan peace talks. China has maintained a multi-dimensional policy regarding the internal situation of Afghanistan. Despite the fact that it has officially and categorically endorsed the elected president, Ashraf Ghani, it believes that Abdullah has the capability and capacity to undermine the peace and negotiation process.
China as a Mediator between Kabul and the Taliban
Despite China’s prior support to the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, it has now started feeling a soft corner for the Taliban due to their elevating influence in the country. China, as usual, is trying to mediate between Kabul and the Taliban as it sees peace as the only best possible solution for the country.
It wants the Taliban to show a categorized disassociation with Uyghur militants to strengthen its claims in the autonomous region. Starting in 2014, the Taliban delegations began to publicly and regularly visit China, culminating in secret talks that China facilitated between Kabul and the Taliban in Urumqi.
On the other hand, China has assisted Kabul in countering the growing terrorism in the region. It funded the Military Mountain Bridge in the Wakhan Corridor, near the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan, to prevent any sort of infiltration in the country. According to Afghan researchers, China provided more than $70 million in military aid to the Afghan government from 2016 to 2018.
China is very much proud of its neutrality in the internal situation of Afghanistan, and for not invading it. That’s why it wants to play a key role in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis to maintain and elevate its strategic and security benefits in the country.
Beijing’s Criticism on US Policy in Afghanistan
After the swift withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the Chinese media has started comparing this withdrawal with America’s disgraceful exit from Vietnam. China has categorically declared this exit as an irresponsible attempt to challenge regional peace, especially in the case of the US halting financial aid to Afghanistan.
The spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Zhao Lijian, addressed the press and stated, “The abrupt announcement by the US of a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has caused the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan seriously threatening peace and stability in Afghanistan and security of its people”.
Future Prospect of China in Afghanistan
China’s role in Afghanistan is far more than just being an ordinary neighbor state. China finds its role very critical and flexible due to its neutrality in the prolonged crisis inside Afghanistan. China considers its part in three larger prospects – marginal, indispensable, and central. Marginal in the context that it was never a party to the ongoing conflict, indispensable because its strategic and economic depth cannot be ignored at any cost, and central due to its expected role in the progress and development of Afghanistan once this furor will be over.
The Arch of Crisis Around China
After ignoring the Afghan national government, during the peace talks with the Taliban, the treachery of the US—how they set the ground for another civil war between the Taliban and the Afghan National Army—can be clearly understood. On one hand, it didn’t try to compel the Taliban to reach a cease-fire with the Afghan National Army and on the other hand, it is still supporting the Afghan National Army to fight against the Taliban through financial and armed support.
It seems that the US is no more interested in the peace of Afghanistan; rather it wants Afghanistan as an arch or hub of crisis for its most eminent rivals, China and Iran. Hence, the US is creating some serious consequences for its rival states through its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
However, the US is trying to pressurize Pakistan into compelling the Taliban to reach an agreement with the Afghan government despite knowing that it has become impossible after the US-Taliban agreement, which completely derelict the position of the government in the intra-Afghan peace process. This can be considered as an attempt to sabotage the relationship between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. As a part of the implications of this attempt, Pakistan will be held responsible for the post-withdrawal situation in Afghanistan.
The Role of Pakistan in Establishing Peace
After General Musharraf’s regime, the intelligence heads of Pakistan kept a policy of no-offense with the Afghan Taliban—which was largely about not offending them to the limit where they can start considering Pakistan an enemy synonymous to the US. This policy came out to be very effective as Pakistan played a vital role in paving the way for peace talks between the Taliban and the US.
However, there is yet an important role to play regarding the intra-Afghan talks because, in the case of failure of the said talks, the massive destruction in Afghanistan will not be limited to its borders but spread to all the neighboring states. Pakistan can play a key role in avoiding any other arch of crisis, with its origin in Afghanistan, which will affect the peace and stability of Pakistan and its most hearty ally, China.
The negligence of the US regarding peace in Afghanistan depicts its motives to retain an uncertain situation in the region, which will ultimately help it in countering its key rivals in the region—Iran, China, and Russia. In such a petty situation, all the neighboring states including Pakistan, Iran, China, and Russia, should keep a keen eye on the process and try to assist the peace process by all means in the larger progress and benefit of the whole region. Otherwise, we are standing on the verge of another Cold War, with its arch of crisis starting from Afghanistan.
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