Taliban has shown interest in joining the 3rd Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum to be held on 17-18 October in Beijing. This forum is to mark the 10th anniversary of ambitious global infrastructure and connectivity initiative BRI.
Taliban spokesman Akhundzada Abdul Salam Jawad told the media that Taliban’s acting minister for commerce and industry, Haji Nooruddin Azizi will attend the forum. Azizi is supposed to have discussion on construction of road through Wakhan corridor wo provide direct access to China. Wakhan corridor is about 350 km long and 16 to 64 km wide and provides the only border connection of Afghanistan with Xinjiang of China.
On 4-5 October 2023, on the sidelines of 3rd Trans-Himalaya Forum for International Cooperation in Tibet, Chinese and Afghanistan Acting foreign minister had discussed opening of Wakhan corridor to strengthen trade ties. If this corridor plan is implemented then there are chances that Pakistan may also use this to further connect to Central Asian Republics (CAR).
Since August 2021, China’s approach to the Taliban has been governed by security concerns and aversion to violent extremism. China’s main objective in Afghanistan is to stop violent extremism and terrorism from destabilizing the area. It doesn’t want any kind of spillover into China. In addition to keeping terrorism from spreading to Xinjiang, China considers Afghanistan as a means of protecting its investments in Pakistan and Central Asia.
Earlier, China and Pakistan in May had discussed extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. Taliban spokesman has said that through this BRI Forum Afghanistan is looking to attract more investments. But the primary question is will the Afghans gain any profit from these BRI projects if implemented. The answer is that the common people of Afghanistan won’t gain anything, only the Taliban will gain profits which will be used in their operations to further suppress the rights of Afghans.
China is the first country to appoint an ambassador to Afghanistan even though China has not formally recognized the Taliban led government.
China’s approach to Afghanistan has evolved since 2001, moving from a non-engagement “observer” policy (2002–2010) to an agenda based on economics (2011–2017), and finally to an agenda dominated by security (post–2018).
China’s foremost security concern is possible challenges from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, an organization that aims to free Xinjiang Province and the Uyghur people from Chinese government authority and install an Islamic order. In 2001, during the Global war on Terror, China did not show particular interest in Afghanistan as the US and its allies were present there but it was interested in stabilising the internal conflicts in the fear of spillover to Xinjiang. However, this approach changed when the US announced its complete withdrawal from Afghanistan which could have led to resurgence of terrorism and instability near its borders. The US withdrawal has led to a vacuum that China is exploiting. China is concerned that a destabilized Afghanistan will be a favourable environment for the ETIM or other organizations looking to utilize Afghanistan as a base.
These increasing ties of China and Afghanistan, considering that China has already ‘all weather friendship’ with Pakistan, can have security implications on India. Recently China has added Afghanistan in the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. CPEC is built on Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan and now involving another actor into this will have repercussions in the region. Afghanistan is an important neighbour for India. India’s regional economic ambitions, which include stronger links with Iran and Central Asia, depend on Afghanistan. Already the Taliban is posing a threat to India, and its connections to Pakistan and Islamist organizations like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed raise further concerns and now its increasing ties with China can have implications to India.
China’s need to use the Indian Ocean (IO) routes for its trade and energy needs may increase if the CPEC and BRI routes from Central Asia to South Asia via Afghanistan become more connected and integrated. This can have impact on the geopolitical environment in the region and raise India’s threat perception of China’s prospective naval presence in the IO Region, which would only lead to naval competition.
India’s passivity will allow the Taliban and China to claim that the China-led CPEC does not infringe upon Indian sovereignty, since the project passes through Indian territory that is occupied by Pakistan.
Given China’s expanding economic and strategic interests in Afghanistan, it is likely that China’s intervention in Afghanistan will have significant implications for India’s geopolitical, security, and economic interests in the South Asian region. The economic, political, and security concerns of India in the area are expected to be affected by China’s investments, infrastructural development, and influence in Afghanistan. Additionally, India’s national security may be directly or indirectly threatened by the changing security circumstances in Afghanistan, particularly in the wake of the American withdrawal.
Author: Kritika Rajput