Tag Archives: Afghanistan

China Provides Afghan Aid Modestly And Cautiously

CHINA’S OFFER OF 200 million yuan ($31 million) worth of aid to the new Taliban government in Afghanistan is modest and cautiously given. Much of it will take the form of grain and other food supplies and vaccines and medicines.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the assistance during a meeting of counterparts from Afghanistan’s neighbours, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, thus distancing China from unilateral action.

Beijing established contact with Taliban officials even before the final US pullout from Afghanistan to ensure stability in the new emirate and prevent any spillover of militant Islamic radicalism into its restive Uighur population in Xinjiang.

Beijing’s continuing belligerent rhetoric towards the United States, critical of its 20-year presence in Afghanistan, may encourage Taliban hopes that China will provide the investment to rebuild the economy of their re-established but war-torn emirate.

However, China’s priority will be to ensure Afghanistan does not become a staging post for terrorists headed eastwards, followed by protecting Chinese businesses already operating there.

That was its strategy with its aid to the previous Kabul government. Providing anything more to its Taliban successor will be regarded with great caution in Beijing until it is clear how the situation in Afghanistan is developing.

Wang’s suggestion at the neighbours’ meeting that the United States and its allies ‘are more obligated than any other country to provide economic, livelihood and humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, and help Afghanistan maintain stability, prevent chaos and move toward sound development’ only confirms that cautious stance.

Update: Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen has told the Global Times that there is no place in Afghanistan for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or any other terrorist group ‘with a foreign agenda’, to train, recruit or fundraise, and that many ETIM members had left the country, begging the question of where they have gone.

Shaheen also added to the things Beijing would like to hear by saying said that the Taliban was keen for Afghanistan to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative.

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China Will Move Cautiously But Purposefully In Afghanistan

Map showing location of Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan

BEIJING HAS PROBABLY been as taken aback as the rest of the world by the speed with which the Taliban has resumed control of Afghanistan — and created an American-sized power vacuum in the region.

China will, however, be in no hurry to rush in to fill it, even as its leaders take private delight in what they will regard as further evidence of the global decline of the United States.

In the near term, Beijing will happily profess its philosophy of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs. At the same time, it will buy as much peace and stability from the Taliban as it can while keeping the Wakhan Corridor tightly bottled up.

The eastern end of the Wakhan Corridor, a remote mountain valley on the ‘roof of the world’, forms China’s short (less than 100 kilometres) horseshoe-shaped border with Afghanistan. An ancient trade route spilling into Xinjiang through the Wakhjir Pass, it has long been closed at the Chinese end for fear of the drugs, Uighur separatists or other extremists that might flow through it. Tajikistan and Pakistan, to the north and south, respectively, also provide a physical buffer between Afghanistan and China.

Beijing provided modest military and economic support for the now-collapsed Kabul government for the past several years — including training some of the police who melted away in the face of the Taliban advance. Yet, it will have no compunction about pivoting to deal with the Taliban.

It has probably already used its influence in Pakistan to build connections with the new regime. It can offer security and economic assistance in return for protecting Chinese commercial interests and assurances that the Taliban will not support Uyghur militant forces or allow them to use the country as a base or transit route.

As a secondary objective, it will also seek the use of the Taliban’s influence in assuaging its growing security concerns for Chinese citizens and interests along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The ‘March West‘ policy since the mid-2010s has led Beijing to be increasingly involved in West Asia and the Middle East, not only deepening its relationships with Iran and Pakistan but expanding engagement with other regional powers such as Saudia Arabia.

However, what should have been a serious complication for China’s regional relationships — its treatment of the Uighurs — has been notably buttoned down by Beijing. Few Middle Eastern leaders have spoken out publicly on this — a sign of the importance of the growing ties in other areas plus Beijing’s ability to use its economic clout to dampen international criticism of its domestic policies.

The March West is, however, a journey of influence and transactional relationships, not empire. Beijing knows full well that Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires.

The issue that Beijing will eventually have to face in Afghanistan is the one that has confronted other outside powers before it: it is difficult to maintain a neutral position in a part of the world where there are so many overlapping and longstanding rivalries and conflicts.

It will be even more challenging when the time comes, as it surely will, for Beijing to step up its diplomatic and security engagement beyond the purely mercantilist.

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New Military Base In Afghanistan Will Extend China’s Sway

 

Wakhan, Badakhshan province, Afghanistan. Photo credit: Tom Hartley; Licenced under Creative Commons.

CHINA HAS A small frontier with Afghanistan, a horseshoe-shaped border of fewer than 100 kilometres around the eastern end of the Wakhan Corridor (seen above), the isolated, mountainous valley on the roof of the world wedged between Tajikistan and Pakistan that connects Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Badakhshan with the western marches of Xinjiang.

The corridor is an ancient trade route, spilling into Xinjiang through the Wakhjir Pass, but has long been closed at the Chinese end for fear of the drugs, Uighur separatists or other extremists that might flow through it.

Map showing location of Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan

It does, though, open up into a much larger space, the one being created by the United States’ patchwork withdrawal from international affairs, and into which Beijing is venturing, albeit tentatively.

China will be funding, supplying and likely building, a military base in Badakhshan, according to Gen. Dawlat Waziri, the Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, quoted by Russian news sources.

The base’s location has yet to be settled. Afghan forces will garrison it (and thus it will not be a Chinese military base, as the Defence Ministry insists).

However, Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, speaking after meeting a delegation to Beijing in December headed by acting Afghan Defence Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami, said Beijing would build the base sometime in 2018 to “strengthen pragmatic cooperation in areas of military exchange and anti-terrorism and safeguard the security of the two countries and the region, making contributions to the development of China-Afghanistan strategic partnership of cooperation”.

Beijing and Kabul already have a 2015 border policing agreement that involves equipment supply, training and joint patrols. There have been reports of Chinese forces operating on the Afghan side of the border since 2016. A report by the French news agency AFP last October quoted local Kyrgyz saying Chinese soldiers had been intermittently bringing them food and warm clothing for the past year.

The Defense Ministry has confirmed counter-terrorism and anti-cross-border crime operations but has dismissed Central Asian and Indian reports of Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan.

The policing relationship has already expanded to the defence side with a pledge by Beijing of $70 billion in military aid to the Afghan government over three years.

The proposed new base would represent a step up on that co-operation. It would effectively be a forward base for cutting off any support coming from Afghanistan for militant factions of the Muslim Uighur population that once formed a majority in Xinjiang but is now outnumbered by Han Chinese following years of inward migration.

Islamic State’s regrouping in Afghanistan following the military defeat of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq is particularly concerning for Beijing because of its recruitment of ethnic Turkmen jihadis, some of whom have links with Uighur separatists who want to establish a state of East Turkestan.

China has also offered to involve Kabul in the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Afghanistan could provide an alternative route to some or all of the CPEC, which itself has security concerns. To this end, Beijing has been mediating disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan whose common border is tribal lands where neither government’s law runs writ.

China is already part of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States, whose task of bringing an end to the Afghan civil war has foundered on the combination of deteriorating relations between Islamabad and Kabul and eroding trust between Beijing and Washington. Using bilateral relationships, Beijing could exploit its relationship with Islamabad to use the influence the Pakistan military has over Afghanistan’s insurgents to rein in the Taliban, even to the point of bringing them into peace talks (although that would not help it deal with the threat of Islamic State).

The emergence of an alliance of Pakistan and China in Afghanistan, in partnership with Russia, would be challenging to the United States’s close relationship with the Kabul government and another example of Beijing building alternative security alliances to its own specifications — all further signs of the gradual expansion of China’s growing clout in the region and willingness to use it.

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China and Afghanistan Draw Closer On The Roof Of The World

 

wakhan_corridor

CHINA’S BOUNDARY WITH Afghanistan is short; less than 100 kilometres arcing around the end of the Wakhan Corridor, a high mountain valley, seen above, on the ‘roof of the world’ that once provide a narrow imperial buffer between the Russian and British empires. Today it separates Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south and looks on maps like a panhandle of Afghanistan whose territory it is.

Though it is an ancient trade route, spilling into Xinjiang through the Wakhjir Pass, it has long been closed at the Chinese end for fear of the drugs, Uighur separatists or other extremists that might flow through it.

Beijing and Kabul have a 2015 border policing agreement that involves joint patrols, but of late there have been reports that Chinese forces have been operating on the Afghan side of the border.

Map showing location of Wakhan Corridor in AfghanistanThis is a remote part of the world, so supporting accounts are scant. The Defense Ministry has confirmed that counter-terrorism and anti-cross-border crime operations have occurred but has dismissed Central Asian and Indian reports of Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan.

Pictures published last November show what look like Chinese-made armoured patrol vehicles inside the Wakhan Corridor. While the vehicles can be made out, what cannot is who is driving them — PLA soldiers, Chinese armed police, Chinese private security firm personnel, or someone else altogether, such as Afghanistan border police.

Relations between the two countries have been gradually growing closer since the establishment of Afghanistan’s National Unity government in 2014.

Afghanistan has agreed not to provide sanctuary for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the Uighur separatist group that has been fighting a long and sporadic war for Xinjiang’s independence. For its part, China is training Afghan police and supplying the force with equipment and has pledged $70 billion in military aid as the policing relationship expanded to the defence side (though this hasn’t yet extended to heavy weapons). Bilateral exchanges on both fronts are increasing.

None of this is yet any substitute for Afghanistan’s dependence on the West. However, for Beijing, always worried about insecurity on its Western marches, a close relationship with Kabul will also be essential to the success of One Belt One Road, especially if security concerns about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor worsen.

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