Will China succeed where the United States failed in Afghanistan?
Long before the departure of US forces from Afghanistan after nearly two decades, China, which has been quietly monitoring the situation in Afghanistan for years with a view to establishing a strategic position in the country, held informal talks with Afghan politicians. and elements of the opposition.
Afghanistan’s great game
Indeed, the withdrawal of the United States and NATO has left the door open for China to try to become the new player of the “Big Game”, or The Big Game. It is reminiscent of the time when the British and Russia were locked in a political and diplomatic confrontation aimed at gaining power and influence over Afghanistan and the neighboring territories of Central and South Asia. Imperial Britain feared Russia would invade India and add it to the vast empire it was building.
Fast forward to the present day, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and the American invasion of October 2001 both ended as a setback for both powers.
The United States has come to destroy the al-Qaida terrorist group and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and to ensure that events such as the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City never happen again.
But now even the United States has accepted the futility of continuing to maintain troops in Afghanistan, having paid a heavy price in terms of spending trillions of dollars and, more importantly, the large number of American soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict.
But American strategic experts fear that a return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, following the model of the post-Soviet withdrawal, will translate into a return of Al-Qaida with devastating consequences for the civilian population, in particular women. .
Belt and Road Initiative
For China, Afghanistan is an important step in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to strengthen its foothold in neighboring Central Asia and extend its reach to Europe by rail, road and sea.
With the departure of American and Western troops, Afghan politicians have in the meantime also opened up to Chinese overtures. They held talks with Chinese officials about Afghanistan as an important component of the $ 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a project under the BRI, which emphasizes construction. a vast network of infrastructure including highways, railways and energy pipelines connecting Pakistan and China.
China’s past efforts to gain Afghan government membership have been unsuccessful due to the influence of the United States over successive Afghan governments, which have been reluctant to join the BRI’s expansion plans of the China.
Indeed, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who, out of respect for American sensitivities, hesitated in the past to discuss the project with the Chinese, is now expected to meet with Beijing after the American withdrawal.
Ghani is in dire need of an alternative source of funding, weapons and even troops to counter any unexpected turnaround by the Taliban, whose commitment to peace and development in Afghanistan rings hollow for many, including strategists who are quick to point out that the Taliban has already used force to bring much of the country under its control.
The Taliban’s return to Afghanistan could also herald the return of the murderous al-Qaeda group, a nightmare situation not only for the United States and the West, but for much of the world, including China.
U.S. China observers in Afghanistan recall that the Chinese had talks with Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani about five years ago about a possible extension of CPEC to Afghanistan as part of the BRI network.
The minister reportedly showed interest but changed his mind when an Indian ambassador approached the US ambassador in Kabul to pressure Rabbani to abandon the proposed partnership with China.
India has made huge investments in development projects in Afghanistan, including a hydroelectric and irrigation dam project in the Chishti Sharif district of Herat, dubbed the Afghan-Indian Friendship Dam.
China wants to attract landlocked Afghanistan with investments promising to develop and rebuild the country. Afghanistan’s strategic location, in turn, would also help China expand its reach across the globe, with Afghanistan serving as a trade hub with links to the Middle East, Central Asia and the Europe.
Although China, through its Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, recently acknowledged that it is engaged in talks with several parties, including Afghanistan, on the extension of the CPEC , filling the void left by the United States and the West will not be easy for China. , as one US analyst said privately.
China is now expected to pick up where it left off five years ago. The country, which has also had informal talks with the Taliban, highlighted its efforts to aid Afghanistan’s development through projects such as the construction of Taskorgan Airport on the Pamir Plateau in the northwest. from Xinjiang, to the Afghan border. China is also developing the port of Gwadar in Pakistan. Both projects are carried out within the framework of the CPEC alliance.
Although the departure of the United States may appear to have removed a major obstacle in China’s path to establishing a strong position in Afghanistan, China will not find it easy to deal with the Taliban, whose past has included brutality towards the civilians and aversion to foreign elements in the country.
China also has its own fears about the future behavior of the Taliban. Things could be fine for China in Afghanistan if the Taliban and other militant elements in Afghanistan act according to China’s manual.
China will likely use its so-called “iron brother” Pakistan, which has huge foreign debts, to curb the Taliban. However, many pundits doubt that he still has his old level of influence over the group.
Getting the Taliban to sign a peace deal could be a good start for China, but how can you be sure that a Taliban in charge will keep their word? How can China ensure that the Taliban do not one day drive the Chinese out of Afghanistan?
The success of the BIS – and China – in Afghanistan will depend on peace and stability. Given its history of tribal rivalries and bloodshed, Afghanistan has rarely known peace and stability.
Afghanistan, one of the few countries in the world that was not colonized by any foreign power, fiercely resisted foreign invaders, as the Soviet Union and the United States learned the hard way. It remains to be seen whether China, using trade and economic incentives, will succeed where others have failed. In any case, to use the American metaphor, it will not be a piece of cake.