Afghanistan: the possible Chinese road ahead

Kabul, Aug 29 (IANS) Currently, Afghanistan has the attention of the world. The fall of Kabul was neither sudden, nor was it due to the rapid and unexpected surrender of the “3,00,000 strong Afghani forces”. It was a long bloody battle which took place over the last six months with the fall of Kabul being just a final nail in the coffin of Ashraf Ghani’s government.
This actually distracted analysts into debating “Why was the last nail in the coffin so smooth”, rather than discussing “Why there was a coffin in the first place”.
Currently, every strategic affairs expert seems to be asking the same question, “What is the road ahead for Afghanistan?”
The answer to this question can be sought by strategically predicting the next moves of the various players operating in this region either openly, or in shadows.
Right now, Pakistan appears to be the dominant player in Afghanistan. For Pakistan it is time to encash a calculated investment that was nurtured for the past 20 years. Pakistan can be expected to use Afghanistan for outsourcing its terror activities in order to keep the FATF off its back. Further, Pakistan would like to ensure that India’s strategic, religious and economic footprint is completely obliterated from Afghanistan.
Moreover, it would also hope to leverage from the Taliban fighters by giving them a new cause to work on: Kashmir, that would add to India’s security concerns similar to what was experienced in the 1990s.
But, Pakistan’s Achilles heel in this plan is its empty coffers. Pakistan does not have the financial wherewithal to support this agenda, and therefore, would look towards China, its partner in the shadows in Afghanistan.
China has already shown warmth towards the Taliban. The outcome of Taliban’s war against the Afghan government was clear the moment Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Taliban leaders in China. Given the current status of China in global politics, it is unlikely that the country will bet against a weak power in a struggle for supremacy.
Recently, China offered assistance to rebuild Afghanistan to the Taliban. For China, present day Afghanistan is the Sri Lanka of 2008, which was in dire need of funds to rebuild its infrastructure, and needed China’s support in various international agencies to avoid sanctions. Therefore, China’s economic moves can be predicted through its old game plan of Sri Lanka.
China will initially use Pakistan as a middleman to navigate the unknown waters of the Taliban. Going by the Sri Lankan experience, China is also likely to embark on a two pronged approach in Afghanistan. First would be the immediate announcement of large grants to rebuild infrastructure in the war torn country, offering Covid support, assistance in mining, developing energy etc, China would also get other debt ridden countries under its influence to help the Taliban in navigating international agencies and avoid possible sanctions.
Secondly, China, in due course, would start offering loans to Afghanistan, initially at low, and later at market rates for building White Elephant-like projects, which would be grand in nature, but won’t generate any revenue for Afghanistan as a country. Through these mechanisms, Afghanistan would be pushed into Chinese economic and thereafter political and strategic grip, just like other countries affected by the BRI such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar etc.
One of the initial projects could be the China-Afghanistan Economic Corridor, branching off from the CPEC at Pakistan Administered Kashmir and entering Afghanistanto be further extended to Iran and finally, the Chabahar port. This project would be useful in serving two agendas.
The first would be to remove the Indian footprint in Chabahar port, and second to create assets worth billions of dollars which would facilitate Chinese industry, utilising Chinese finance to exploit Afghanistan’s precious mineral resources relegating the country to a mere market meant for dumping Chinese goods.
The US is another key player in Afghanistan. Right now, the US is concerned only about the safe return of its citizens and friendly allies in Afghanistan. But when the dust settles, it is possible that the US would make efforts to discredit the Taliban at various international forums.
But given the interest expressed by China, it may not result in any tangible outcome.
Further, the US may also tone down its aggression in the show of military dominance against China in the Indian Ocean Region & the South China Sea (especially Taiwan) owing to the criticism for its foreign policies in the domestic front. Therefore, a collateral damage of the developments in Afghanistan would be an increase in aggressive behaviour on the part of China and in the worst case scenario, a probable military operation against Taiwan.
Russia, another major player in the region would avoid playing a direct role in Afghanistan. But, it would exercise its influence through the CIS countries in view of the concerns it has about the rising Islamic radicalization in its backyard.
For India, right now the major concern is the safety of Indian nationals and influx of refugees from Afghanistan. But, in due course, it would be about “How to go ahead with the Taliban?” Sooner or later India would have to take a stand with regard to the decision on the type of diplomatic, economic and strategic relationship it wants to maintain in Afghanistan.
As they say, a foot in the door is always better than imagining what is going on behind closed doors.

- Advertisement -