Sino-Pak ‘Confluence’ on Afghanistan

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Asma Siddiq

As the Taliban era reemerges from the ashes of American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the whole region stands in line to reorient its policies towards the defacto Taliban reality. The Taliban ascent to power has come to manifest a serious challenge for the world community. The rise of ‘Taliban 2.0’ has rolled back democratic consolidation and decades of achievements made in human rights especially women’s rights. While countries are yet to decide for an official policy on Afghanistan of whether or not to extend ‘recognition’ to the new Taliban government, the quandary remains on how to deal with the emerging uncertainty emanating from the afghan puzzle. It is especially interesting to see how Pakistan and China, the ‘iron brothers, would forge a consensus to secure their interests in Afghanistan. Will this ‘iron-clad friendship’ really stand this test of time?

As per some analysts, the situation prevailing in Afghanistan might sow seeds of future regional strife and might well end up impacting the long-standing Pak-China relations.  However, there are ample converging tendencies that suggest that this ‘all-weather partnership’ is all set for another round. Both countries’ historical record illustrates that they view regional and even global developments through more or less the same prism, which brings us to see if there exists a ‘confluence’ on the question of dealing with post-American Afghanistan. Analyzing the policy trajectory of the two countries, it is clear they are on the same page. The current scenario depicts that both countries predominantly share a consensus on questions surrounding counterterrorism and secure regional connectivity through a stable Afghanistan.

Peace within and Peace without Islamabad’s standpoint

Pakistan views the new Taliban as a ‘win-win’ for both countries. On one hand, the     Afghans have finally been successful in ousting foreign influence, on the other, this has led Pakistan to secure its interests in Afghanistan. It is assumed that the Taliban victory would serve to console the two most important concerns held by Islamabad. One, of permanently ending the threat of Indian encroachment on its western side of the border signified by increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan. The other serves to elevate Pakistan’s long-lost expectations of materializing regional connectivity vis-a-vis Central Asia.

Sharing its longest border with Afghanistan, Pakistan believes it has a direct stake in Afghanistan’s stability. Whether it is the issue of cross-border terrorism or refugee influx or subsequent economic plunge, Pakistan remains the first country to fall victim. Pakistan has long resisted enhanced Indian presence in Afghanistan. Apart from the regular civilian engagement with the ex-Kabul government by investing billions of dollars in infrastructure development and training of the Afghan army, India has also been destabilizing Pakistan through covert means.

It is an open secret now that India had been carrying out clandestine operations in Baluchistan through RAW, promoting subversive activities by fueling terrorism by TTP and Baloch nationals, which Pakistan labels as ‘hybrid war’ or ‘5th generation warfare’. Pakistan deems the return of the Taliban mostly to its advantage as the group would contribute to halting further Indian involvement, therefore, aiding Pakistan in neutralizing the Indian threat.

In addition, Pakistan sees the Taliban-led government as a means to materialize its ‘geoeconomics’ policy. In the past decades, Pakistan has consistently tried to gain secure access to the Central Asian region via Afghanistan but could not achieve this objective as the security situation did not allow for such a venture.

Pakistan’s policy has undergone a significant shift since the beginning of this year from ‘geopolitics’ to ‘geoeconomics’. The geo-economic vision is based on four pillars: lasting peace, non-interference, trade and connectivity, and sustainable development. The end goal of this policy lies in cashing on the extensive opportunities presented by the Central Asian region through establishing regional connectivity apparatus.

Towards Shared Destiny: Beijing’s Outlook

For China, the Taliban government can be an asset or a liability, that depends on how the Taliban would deliver on the question of internal security. Although there is no denying the fact that the regional situation yields more complexities after the US withdrawal, nevertheless, for China, it may be considered as one step closer to consolidating its vision of ‘shared destiny. Beijing, just like Pakistan, has two overriding concerns. One, from a domestic security perspective, China views the threat of Uyghur terrorism as its number one challenge to national security, and the second one begins the lasting stability in its neighborhood so that the huge Chinese investments can be secured.

Withdrawal of US Forces from Afghanistan

Beijing has been concerned with putting an effective end to the threat of Uyghur militancy in Afghanistan. The last thing China wants is another upsurge of terrorism and ethnic violence taking a foothold on its western border. China fears that the rise of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) or the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the World Uyghur Youth Congress would spur another round of extremism from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, which borders Xinjiang via the Wakhan Corridor.

This would ultimately have spillover effects in the already vulnerable Xinjiang region of China. The strengthening of terrorist bases in Afghanistan would fuel separatist elements adding to China’s anxiety. Therefore, China’s top priority remains to build stronger defenses against such distressing elements, and what better a policy than to rely on the Taliban to do the job as they require recognition in return for cracking down hard on terrorists.

China also wants to preserve its huge investments under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Many analysts note that US withdrawal poses a serious breakdown of the regional security structure as Afghanistan is left in limbo. However, this also presents an opportunity for the Chinese to expand their influence across the region. While Beijing remains wary of the security arrangements, nevertheless, it seeks to build lasting stability in Afghanistan.

The historic meeting between Taliban representative with Minister of Foreign Affairs of People’s Republic of China

This would allow China to expand its BRI project to Afghanistan and also secure access to Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. The Chinese Communist Party, CCP’s vision of China’s future foreign policy is driven by adhering to the path of peaceful development and constructing a community of common destiny, which pledges to build peaceful relations and export    China’s development to the rest of the developing world.

To conclude, Pakistan and China have more or less the same concerns regarding post-American Afghanistan. Both countries believe that future engagements with Afghanistan would entail an effective counterterrorism strategy and a roadmap to lasting peace. While the regional dynamics in the aftermath of US withdrawal continue to be ambivalent, both “iron brothers” seek to address somewhat the same concerns. Curbing terrorism and securing stability for enhanced regional connectivity have come to describe the Sino-Pak confluence.

China, as soon as the Taliban took to power, urged the new regime to take stringent measures to check on terrorism. In the same vein, Pakistan sought to neutralize foreign bases of support operating from Afghanistan. In a statement issued by the Taliban co-founder, Mullah Baradar assured that the Taliban would never allow any force to use Afghan territory to engage in terrorist activities. Whether or not the promises made by the Taliban are fulfilled, it is presumed that the Sino-Pak cooperation would only deepen as the two iron brothers are ready to face the challenge head-on.

The writer is a Research Intern at The Diplomatic Insight and Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not represent the position of TDI and IPDS.

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