Afghanistan has come under the control of the Taliban, ending in the process, a 20 years long war. With the Afghan Taliban rising as the dominant power in Kabul, it appears history has repeated itself. War, initiated by the USA, has ended on the same note where it all started, leaving some to suggest American foreign policy failed, yet again. Despite American presence in the country for the last two decades, the future seems bleak.
The question is whether the Taliban will be able to establish an effective and workable order, acceptable to the international community. There are also concerns for regional peace and stability. Especially in Pakistan, a country that has suffered immensely due to instability in Afghanistan since 1979.
Analyzing China’s concerns and shifting global paradigm
Not only is Pakistan, being a direct neighbor, China is also very much concerned regarding the fragile situation in Afghanistan. The biggest concern for China is that Afghanistan becomes a safe haven for militants and extremist groups. China itself has been a victim of militancy and has launched crackdowns against its Uyghur Muslims from the Xinjiang province in efforts to control the Islamic separatist movement under the flagship of ETIM. In the past, members of the ETIM have managed to escape into Afghanistan. Even before the fall of Kabul, the Taliban gained a stronghold of the majority of the Afghan land, including the Badakshan province that touches the border of Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.
East Turkestan Independence Movement is a militant group from the Xinjiang province of China. It is fighting for the independence of almost 10 million Uygur Muslims living under Chinese rule of law. ETIM has been said to have links with Al-Qaeda while having a presence in Afghanistan. According to the UNSC report 2021, ETIM is facilitating the movement of fighters from Afghanistan to China.
Being highly sensitive to this separatist movement, China, even before the Taliban’s triumph, had demanded the Afghan leadership to cut off all links with militant groups. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to re-impose the ban on ETIM on a phone conversation regarding the ongoing developments in Afghanistan last month. The ban on the separatist groups was lifted in 2020 under the Trump Administration.
The second point of concern for China is the safety of its multi-billion dollar project; CPEC with Pakistan under its Belt and Road Initiative. Although Pakistan has managed to control much of terror activities throughout the state instability on its western border has managed to hinder peace internally, especially in the Balochistan province. Recently there have been several terror attacks on Chinese workers within Pakistan. According to Pakistan, much of this militancy and terrorism is supported from within Afghanistan while being aided by India.
Chinese investment projects and the Taliban leadership
Both Pakistan and China are keen on eliminating such groups in order to ensure the well-being of this investment project. Which Taliban Administration must ensure cooperation with its neighbor Pakistan in order to hinder any cross border terror activites.TheTaliban’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid has recently shown interest in becoming a part of CPEC while playing a part in the regional development. Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed takes it as a positive thing. If Afghanistan manages to become a part of CPEC, this will strengthen the fragile Pak – Afghan relation and if played well, could promise Pakistan a peaceful western border, free from militancy and terrorist groups.
Although the Taliban has assured Chinese leadership that land under their control will not be used against any state, but only time will tell whether they will be able to stand by their word or not. Even before the visit, the Taliban’s spokesperson Sohail Shaheen had referred to China as a ‘welcomed friend’ especially for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. In a recent interview with an Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Zabihullah Mujahid said that “China will be our main partner and represents a great opportunity for us because it is ready to invest in our country and support reconstruction efforts”.
The Taliban leadership is under great pressure. They not only have to prove their credibility to the world but also have to put an end to terrorism throughout the state of Afghanistan and address China’s concerns. China will not only provide infrastructural development, economic opportunities and technological support to Afghanistan but will, in return, demand the isolation of the Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang i.e. ETIM. Taliban, along with receiving cooperation in multiple sectors, will gain recognition from the world’s emerging power and ultimately a strong regional strategically.
China has learned from the course of history. Its leadership is well aware of the fact that force cannot promise hegemony over Afghanistan. Thus, China has directed its efforts towards geo-economics that will not only help in building peace and stability regionally but will also aid the Chinese hold. With the shift of power on no Taliban side, all eyes are set on the regional powers for peacebuilding. If the Taliban succeed in gaining China’s trust, it is for sure, that the China – Taliban alliance will set a new theme in the geostrategic environment of the region.
The writer is currently associated with IPRI, a policy based think tank in Islamabad. The views in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.