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China Afghanistan Relations – What does China want from Afghanistan after Taliban takeover?

China Afghanistan Relations – What does China want from Afghanistan after Taliban takeover?

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  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || China

Why in the news?

  • Following the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, China has recently emerged as one of the first nations to establish diplomatic ties with the Taliban. China’s economic and security interests in Afghanistan are driving this engagement.

Factors that call for China to play role in Afghanistan

  • Scope for India-China cooperation:In the past, even India thought that Afghanistan would be a natural area for India and China to work together.
  • East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)- is an Uyghur Islamic extremist organization founded in Western China to establish an independent state called East Turkestan in the place of Xinjiang.The Taliban are known to have a soft corner for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement — a militant group active in the Uighur province of China.
  • Northern neighbours:Afghanistan’s northern neighbours, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan all have expanding political and economic ties with China but have traditionally relied on Russia for their security.They might support a larger role for Beijing in Afghanistan in partnership with Russia.
  • Iran, Afghanistan’s western neighbour, also has deepening ties with China.
  • Bilateral cooperation with the U.S.:Washington, now locked in an escalating confrontation with China sees Afghanistan as a potential area of bilateral cooperation.
  • Role of Pakistan:China is indeed critical in Pakistan’s plans for Afghanistan.Afghan leaders have also been eager to draw China’s BRI into their plans for economic modernisation.China was also important for Afghanistan’s political calculus in limiting Pakistan’s quest for dominance.

China’s Economic Interest in Afghanistan

  • The Chinese have the technology to extract the rare-earth metals and huge deposits of copper in Afghanistan.Lithium Deposits: Afghanistan is home to what may be the world’s most extensive lithium reserves.Lithium is a significant component in lithium-ion batteries, widely utilised in electric cars and the renewable energy sector.China is the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries.It may seek a long-term deal with the Taliban to develop Afghanistan’s vast undeveloped lithium deposits in exchange for mining rights and ownership arrangements.
  • Mineral Reserves:Mineral deposits in Afghanistan are estimated to be worth up to $3 trillion.Gold, oil, bauxite, rare earth, chromium, copper, natural gas, uranium, coal, iron ore, lead, zinc, gemstones, talc, sulphur, travertine, gypsum, and marble are all abundant in Afghanistan.
  • China’s Belt and Silk Road-China is also engaging with the Taliban, to complete the new Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)If China’s strategic Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) can be extended from Pakistan to Afghanistan, with a Peshawar-to-Kabul highway, the initiative’s reach will be expanded.This would open up a far shorter land path for Chinese commodities to reach Middle Eastern markets faster and more conveniently.

China’s Security Interest in Afghanistan

  • According to the UN Security Council, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has origins in Afghanistan and gained backing from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the 2000s.
  • ETIM is an Uyghur Islamic extremist group based in Western China that aims to create an independent state named East Turkestan in the Xinjiang region. The Taliban are known to have a soft corner for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement — a militant group active in the Uighur province of China. The Taliban ruling groups are far from united, making it impossible to make any reliable domestic and international policy
  • As a result, ETIM is a direct danger to China’s security and territorial integrity.
  • China is concerned that Afghanistan may become a sanctuary for the Uyghur extremist organisation, which could retaliate for widespread Uyghur mistreatment.

Major Challenges in China playing role in stabilising Afghanistan

  • Caution in Chinese policy
    • The first is about the deep sources of apprehension in Chinese policy.
    • China will not rush into the Afghan vacuum because of the prospect of mining Afghanistan’s natural resources or the vanity of being the world’s newest superpower.
    • China is deeply concerned about the Taliban’s ideology and its potential role in inciting unrest in its restive Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang.
    • Beijing cannot rely on its special relationship with the Pakistani army to secure China’s borders and investments in Afghanistan.
    • The increasing number of attacks on CPEC projects in Pakistan highlight the difficulty of pursuing economic development in the face of endemic violence.
  • Priorities of Taliban
    • The second set of issues is related to the Taliban’s priorities.
    • It remains to be seen whether the Taliban considers Afghanistan’s economic development to be a top priority.
    • More fundamentally, there is no consensus on the role of economic modernization in the Taliban’s adamant desire to establish an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.

Impact on India

  • A new BRI route through Afghanistan would make India’s reluctance to join the BRI less significant.
  • With China-Taliban engagement, a new regional geopolitical axis between China-Pakistan-Taliban may form, which may be detrimental to India’s interests.
  • China’s stronghold in Afghanistan will also stymie Central Asian connectivity projects via Afghanistan. For instance, the Chabahar Port, the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), and the TAPI Pipeline.

Suggestions for India

  • Immediate initiatives- This will require a major logistical effort. India should also facilitate emergency visas and evacuation of those close to India, who will be under threat.India recently received an invitation to the “Troika Plus” talks in Doha. It should actively engage in that.
    • The government of India must also offer refuge to those Afghans who have worked with Indian initiatives and are desperate to avoid potential retribution from the Taliban
  • Diplomatic initiatives
    • India must make all possible efforts to get the international community to hold the Taliban to its word on letting all foreigners leave with peace, protecting the lives of all Afghan citizens, and respecting international humanitarian law.
    • India also chairs the Taliban Sanctions Committee of the UNSC. It will have an important role in framing the international response to the Taliban’s demands for the lifting of all sanctions against its leaders.
  • India Communicating to the Taliban: Talking to the Taliban will allow India to ask the militants for security guarantees in exchange for ongoing development aid. India may be able to persuade the Taliban to consider the idea of gaining independence from Pakistan.
  • Fighting Worldwide Terrorism:The international community must unite to combat the global threat of terrorism.In this context, the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) should be adopted as soon as possible (proposed by India at UN in 1996).
  • India’s Afghan policy is at a major crossroads; to safeguard its assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, India must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy. The changing political and security situation requires India to be more open to adapting its maximalist position and starting a dialogue with the Taliban.

Mains model Question

  • Recently, the Taliban has seized Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. Discuss the Challenges and concerns for India. Also, suggest some steps India should take to engage with Afghanistan under the Taliban.

References