China Seeks Regional Assist in Managing Afghanistan
By: Salman Rafi Sheikh
With US and NATO forces having already largely withdrawn from Afghanistan, and with the Taliban extending their management and rapidly approaching the Wakhan hall in Badakhshan province that borders China, it has develop into crucial for China to plan a concrete Afghanistan coverage.
That’s as a result of, in response to some latest studies, Taliban teams overrunning the province will not be Pashtun, the dominant ethnic group within the nation. Quite they’re overwhelmingly Tajik, Uzbek, Uyghur, and Chechen fighters, which signifies a transnational jihadi formation going down near China’s most delicate areas.
Subsequently, post-withdrawal Afghanistan, whereas excellent news for the Chinese language by way of US disengagement from the Chinese language yard, is extra of a problem in the intervening time than a chance to determine its financial and monetary tentacles in a rustic badly in want of cash to rebuild and reconstruct itself. Within the wake of US withdrawal, China has been compelled to convey its residents residence and scale down its presence amid the deteriorating safety state of affairs.
For China, partaking with Afghanistan has develop into necessary not solely as a result of the US forces have withdrawn in an “irresponsible” method, permitting Islamist teams to realize management, but additionally as a result of anti-China teams like East Turkestan Islamic Motion (ETIM) proceed to have a powerful presence. A Taliban resurgence, China believes, might permit the ETIM to re-group and use its presence in Afghanistan to launch militant assaults inside Xinjiang, China’s BRI hub, the place China is reportedly carrying mass “re-education” of the area’s Uyghur Muslim majority.
As such, whereas the Donald Trump administration had eliminated the ETIM from its terror checklist in November 2020 saying that the group didn’t have any credible presence and/or posed a direct risk to China, a latest UNSC report confirmed that not solely does the group have a considerable presence in Afghanistan and continues to pose a direct risk to China as nicely, however it has developed alliances with different jihadi networks as nicely in pursuance of its broad targets.
To cite the report: “…the Jap Turkistan Islamic Motion is positioned primarily in Badakhshan, Kunduz and Takhar Provinces. Abdul Haq (QDi.268) stays the group’s chief, aided by his deputy Kausali. In response to one Member State, Farooq in Paktika Province is the group’s logistics chief, Shoaib in Uruzgan Province is a senior operative and Hamza and Abdussalam in Paktika Province are spiritual leaders.
“Roughly 500 fighters of the group function within the north and north-east of Afghanistan, primarily in Raghistan and Warduj Districts, Badakhshan, with financing based mostly in Raghistan. In response to one Member State, the Jap Turkistan Islamic Motion collaborates with Lashkar-e-Islam and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. The Member State reported that the Jap Turkistan Islamic Motion has a transnational agenda to focus on Xinjiang, China, and the China – Pakistan Financial Hall, in addition to Chitral, Pakistan, which poses a risk to China, Pakistan, and different regional States.”
Given the direct risk that large-scale instability poses to China, its Afghanistan coverage has already developed to undertake a “regional strategy.” To the extent that the presence of quite a few jihadi teams warrants such an strategy, China has develop into much more delicate due exactly to the best way the civil battle and the resurgence of Islamist teams in Afghanistan can upend the BRI. No less than 4 of six ‘Silk Roads’ of China’s BRI emanate or go via Xinjiang, connecting China with plenty of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Group, the Eurasian safety pact, together with Pakistan and different Central Asia states; therefore, China’s invocation of the SCO as probably the most appropriate platform to resolve the Afghan query.
In a latest assembly of the SCO, China proposed a five-point agenda to assist Afghanistan transit from the 20 years of battle right into a politically and militarily steady place with out posing a direct risk to regional states.
China’s 5 factors embrace: 1) a continued US position and duty in resolving the disaster, 2) stopping the resurgence of transnational terror networks (learn: the ETIM), 3) the SCO members should play a extra direct position in facilitating an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” means of reconciliation, 4) the SCO should additionally make the most of multilateral mechanisms of cooperation, 5) and the SCO should actively search to combine Afghanistan with “regional financial improvement.”
The truth that China is looking for to actively embrace the SCO exhibits that, not like the previous, Beijing is reluctant to rely solely on Pakistan for managing and defending its pursuits in Afghanistan. Whereas the complexity of the Afghan drawback itself warrants such a coverage, China’s coverage additionally speaks volumes about its rising variations with Pakistan with respect to Pakistan’s dealing with of the enormously costly China-Pakistan Financial Hall over the previous three years and its rising lack of ability to forestall terror assaults on Chinese language personnel in Pakistan. Final week, a minimum of 9 Chinese language engineers engaged on Dasu Dam had been killed in a terror assault in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.
By establishing direct ties with the Taliban, and by activating the SCO, China needs to ensure that a political transition does happen in Afghanistan with out the Afghan state melting down below the mixed weight of battle between Kabul and the Taliban on the one hand, and the battle between quite a few jihadi networks based mostly in Afghanistan seeking to increase their attain past Afghanistan.
China’s direct investments in Afghanistan however, evidently China, like different regional states, isn’t averse to extending legitimacy to and cultivating direct relations with the Taliban in change for his or her ensures for not offering assist and sanctuaries to non-Taliban Islamist teams.
This being mentioned, it stays to be seen whether or not the Taliban will truly divorce the transnational jihadi networks. For now, regional states, together with China, proceed to financial institution upon the Taliban’s obvious want to be embraced as a professional political power.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a Pakistani tutorial and a longtime Asia Sentinel correspondent
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