Afghan crisis and role of China

Published : 21 Oct 2021 09:46 PM | Updated : 23 Oct 2021 09:38 AM

After two decades of war, the Taliban have taken the final control over Kabul in the mid of August 2021. They have established a new rule in the country with the name “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and formed an interim government. Within the deadline of August 31, the US troops and other external forces have evacuated the land leaving an enormous quantity of military equipment. Diplomats have also fled to avoid the uncertain situation in Afghanistan. A huge number of Afghans were seen desperate to flee their country. The former President fled the country; there is no response from any members of previous the previous government. This triumph victory of the Taliban has made the world astonished, which could be a very good subject of research for the defence and security specialists. 

However, the defeat of the superpower and its allies has generated a question on China’s possible role in Afghanistan and China’s geostrategic importance in the region. China’s active participation with five Muslim-majority neighbours of Afghanistan during their foreign ministers’ meeting has created interest in whether the Afghanistan issue would help China strengthen its bonding with the Muslim world or not. Think tanks and international media are showing their growing interest in the issues.

New the Taliban government will face numerous challenges to run the nation. They will not get a good number of previous government employees to run the administration. They need to organise the defence and security forces. Besides satisfying the immediate needs of the people, they need to sustain the economy for the future. The toughest challenge will be to establish unity, peace and harmony in the country, which needs reconciliation of the affected people. 

New the Taliban government will face numerous challenges 

to run the nation. They will not get a good number of previous 

government employees to run the administration. They need to 

organise the defence and security forces. Besides satisfying 

the immediate needs of the people, they need to sustain the 

economy for the future

The future now depends on how the world community act in Afghanistan and how the Taliban government appropriately handles the situation. Under the present unstable situation, few western security analysts are foreseeing the possibility of a civil war in Afghanistan and returning the US-led forces. Expressing this apprehension, Helga Zepp, the founder of Schiller Institute, during a dialogue last month said, “... either those such as US General Milley, Senator Lindsey Graham, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- all of whom are critics of the ending of the war, and are predicting a civil war, which will lead to the redeployment of western military forces -- will prevail, or an alternative, based on economic cooperation, centred on China’s Belt and Road Initiative will be adopted.” 

It is beyond doubt that appropriate national policies, an effective administration, the establishment of rule of law and human resources development are fundamental to overcome the challenges of this war-devastated land. The country is expected to be the world largest reserve of lithium, the key element of large-capacity lithium-ion batteries. Besides, the country is found rich in several other precious resources such as gold, oil, bauxite, chromium, copper, natural gas, uranium, coal, etc. The Taliban have recaptured the massive mineral deposits. At this moment, Afghanistan needs foreign investment to utilize its mineral resources worth $3 trillion. It is envisaged that taking lessons from the past the new Taliban power will sensibly step forward to welcome foreign assistance to build the nation without keeping any chance of being a victim of further external aggression. 

China has emerged as an economic power and extended its assistance to many countries including Muslim-majority nations for their socio-economic development. China’s relations with Afghan’s two major neighbours, Iran and Pakistan, are cordial. After the withdrawal of US forces, China has appeared as one of the first country to establish diplomatic communication with the Taliban. Taliban representatives visited Beijing prior to taking control over Kabul and assured Beijing of not allowing any force to use Afghan land to act against China’s interest. China has always shown their national policy of “non-interference” to other’s internal affairs. Their strategic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has offered economic opportunities to many countries. The country has also acquired tremendous economic power and capability to support others. They are heavily committed to the infrastructure development of Iran and Pakistan and can extend all supports for the Taliban government for the capacity building of Afghanistan.

Zhou Bo, an expert on the Chinese Army’s strategic thinking on internal security, expressed his opinion by saying, “With the US withdrawal, Beijing can offer what Kabul needs most: political impartiality and economic investment.” He wrote, “Afghanistan, in turn, has what China most prizes: opportunities in infrastructure and industry building — areas in which China’s capabilities are arguably unmatched — and access to $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits.” Afghanistan will also need sea, rail and road communications with the external world for their trade and commerce. A connection to BRI would provide them with that opportunities. 

Pakistan is trying world support to help the Taliban in establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is envisaged that China, as a leading member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and having good ties with Iran and Pakistan, could also assist the Taliban in developing diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries and with other parts of the world.

China actively participated in a virtual talk with diplomats of Muslim-majority neighbours of Afghanistan, i.e. Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan last month. The talk was on the Afghan issue. This depicts China’s good relations with those Afghan neighbours. Since 2016, the world is seeing a growing China-Turkey relationship with heavy Chinese investment in Turkey under BRI projects. Turkey is willing to work with China on the Afghan crisis. In the interview with China’s Global Times published on 11 September 2021, Turkish Ambassador to China Abdulkadir Emin Onen expressed Turkey’s intention to cooperate with all parties in efforts aiming for peace and stability in Afghanistan and said, "With this understanding, we also support various regional efforts focusing on enhancing economic, energy and infrastructure connectivity, including the [China-proposed] Belt and Road Initiative." He further said, "There is ample room for cooperation between Turkey and China in these sectors, particularly in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan in the time ahead."

It is expected that China, in coordination with those countries, would extend all possible support and contribute to the permanent establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan through socio-economic development, which in turn would further strengthen its relations with the Muslim world.

For the last few months, the Taliban has been trying to establish contact with external worlds through visits and meetings. It reveals their changed gesture in seeking international cooperation. Though the Taliban had several meetings with the US and western authorities in Doha, it is understood that those were held mainly for changeover of power and safe retreat of the occupied forces. We cannot expect any further direct involvement of the US and its allies in Afghan’s matters in near future. We see a number of Taliban’s interactions with Russia in the recent past. It is notable that the Russian Ambassador in Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov met the Taliban representative within 48 hours of their taking control of Kabul and expressed good words about them. It could be further mentioned that the Taliban have got arms and ammunition support directly or indirectly from Russia. Putin also expressed his desire to work with the Taliban under certain conditions. However, the loss of more than two million Afghan lives during the former Soviet occupation may not be forgotten by the natives. Against this backdrop, we see less possibility of the Taliban’s welcoming any Russian proposal in support of Afghanistan’s domestic affairs involving their long presence in that country.

Read more: Taliban pledge to step up security after mosque blast

The Taliban’s intention of seeking China’s cooperation was revealed in their activities. Though China has not yet officially recognised the Taliban government, it has been seen both the governments are showing mutual respect to each other and have expressed intention to work together. In an interview with the Global Times, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said, “China can take part in the construction of Afghanistan and provide assistance in other essential sectors.” He further added, “After this, both countries can enter into mutually beneficial bilateral agreements which best serve the interests of both countries through mutual respect." He also said that there is nothing wrong with China helping Afghanistan under the Belt and Road Initiative. The Taliban has great hope that with the support of China, they will be able to create a huge job market, which in turn helps eliminate poverty and improve the socio-economic condition of the country. 

It can be envisaged that China, with their policy of “non-interference to others’ internal affairs” and with the cooperation of other regional Muslim countries, will extend all possible assistance to the Taliban for the capacity building of Afghanistan and greatly contribute to the overall development of the war-torn nation. It is also imagined that through the inclusion of Afghanistan in the BRI project, China’s geostrategic standing in the region and its relations with the Muslims would be further strengthened. 


-    Md Humayun Kabir, a former Air Vice Marshal of Bangladesh Air Force, and former Defence Adviser of the Bangladesh government to Malaysia, is a Senior Research Fellow, and Project Coordinator (Bangladesh) of China-Muslim World Co-operation Research (CMWCR) at Muslim World Research Center (MWRC) in Malaysia. He can be reached by email - [email protected]

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