Chinese dilemmas in Afghanistan
CAPTURE campaign of Taliban in Afghanistan in fighting with armies of Afghan government and others who are against the use of brute force on Afghani soil became disappointed on 15 August 2021 when the extremists finally occupied Kabul and days before their occupation President of the nation left the country accepting the defeat and providing the elements a free hand in Afghan politics.
Countries of the region were stunned to hear the news where, once again, the political fate of the nation moved in chaos, uncertainty and a state of anarchy.
To say, only two countries, China and Pakistan seemed happy with the developments, mainly due to downsizing their traditional rivals, USA and India respectively.
It gave them maximum satisfaction that finally they both have been able to damage their enemy in power, position and influence in the region and in respect of China, Pakistan expressed its happiness more openly.
But for both the moments of joy has been a matter of the past and they are looking/searching the ways to deal with a force, not normal in international politics and, as history indicated, they are not friend of any country but of their strict Islamic laws and the use of methods they are famous for.
Although, the Chinese have responded favourably on Taliban’s assumption of power, at the same time it is fearful to look an extremist/Taliban-dominated government on its borders.
In addition, China is also doubtful about the future behaviour of its Uyghur Muslims, of which about 8 to 10 lakhs are already living in Afghanistan.
In July 2021 the Chinese Foreign Minister had met the Taliban leaders in which the latter had assured to check and remove anti-China elements from the country.
Re-emergence of Taliban: Territorial victory of Taliban over Afghanistan, especially on Kabul on 15 August 2021, paved the way for forming the Taliban-led government twice after two decades and for the hopeful China it’s not only an opportunity but a challenge too and show the tact, greatness and strategy to handle delicate Taliban in the region which will cast a long shadow on politics of Middle East and West Asia.
After taking over the reign of administration in Afghanistan, Beijing hoped to establish an inclusive Islamic government and take responsible actions for the safety and security of the country’s citizens and foreign missions.
Hua, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement maintained that his country hopes smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan, curb all types of terrorism and criminal acts and help the Afghan people avoid war and chaos and rebuild their beautiful homeland.
On the other hand, Beijing is a new comer for Afghanistan because in post-Cold War phase the West has viewed the country as their epicentre for regional power and influence in Central Asia but now the previous phase has been over and China-led countries including Pakistan and Russia are new strategic partners to provide regional peace, safety and security, Earlier, in the first phase of Taliban’s regime between 1996-2001, Beijing remained in direct touch with Taliban and offered them Chinese support along with missile guidance system to counter US cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan.
Beijing also signed a military pact with Taliban in 1998 to train Afghan pilots followed by an economic cooperation agreement in 1999 in the hope that it would discourage Taliban in helping support to Uyghur Muslim rebels of Xinjiang province of Chinese State, a burning/major internal threat to country’s unity and integrity.
Thus, while China is worried about re-emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan, it is also hopeful to manage the gap with Kabul’s increasing need of Beijing’s investment, technology, and support services.
Alternative measures of China: Unlike earlier, in recent past, China has supported Taliban more openly and it is perhaps due to its global, regional considerations and traditional rivalry with the US and India.
In the last six decades, but almost more than two decades ago when Taliban took over the rule of Afghanistan in 1996.
It was followed by setting up of an embassy in Kabul and meeting with Taliban head Mullah Omar in 2000 to have a word from the group that it would not involve in harbouring or training Uyghurs Muslims as well as members of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) workers who are agitating for a separate statehood.
In return, Taliban expected from China to stop possible restrictions/sanctions to be imposed on Taliban and demanded a formal recognition of the Taliban government to have a place in the comity of nations, it however, did not bear any fruit as both of them refused to fulfil the terms and assurances given to each other.
In fact, from the beginning China lacked trust on Taliban and remaining in doubt at the time proposed and took forward the idea of an ‘anti-Islamic-fundamentalist alliance’ together with Central Asian states-Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to isolate the Islamic revolt in its State of Xinjiang and stop movement of Muslin community in the whole region and in surroundings.
After the Taliban took over power in 1996, the said alliance was upgraded as ‘Shanghai Five’ in order to ensure security of borders, control religious extremist forces and building confidence/cooperation between China and the former Soviet states.
In the year this alliance was formally institutionalized as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
China as critical actor: However, in the last two decades, the Peoples Republic of China has improved its position in Afghanistan significantly and especially in the last 7-8 years when Obama Administration under a changed policy announced that its army from Afghan would withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, and with it, China began to take help from Pakistan, a key player of Afghan politics and society along with a clout on terror groups in the region.
Pakistan’s help provided China a safe heaven to Beijing.It prompted and promoted China to foster favourable ties with different factions of the country and conclude China-Taliban summits in 2018 and 2019.
There onwards, the Taliban factions remained in constant touch with Beijing and discussed with it several negotiation proposals forwarded by Donald Trump, the President of USA.
It welcomed the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and installation of a government by Taliban after capturing Kabul on 15 August 2021.
In fact, Beijing has utilized the opportunity to mend its image in the comity of nations.
— The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, B N Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar, India.