… and prospects of regional integration
After fighting for more than fifteen years since 2006; the Taliban have conquered Afghanistan by defeating world’s powerful alliance, i.e. NATO, and a superpower, i.e. the United States, through their blood and sweat. Afghan National Army and police could put up very little resistance, and Taliban captured almost the entire Afghanistan in a very short time. A worth-mentioning fact here is that apart from fighting in the battlefield, the Taliban have aptly used the platform of negotiations since the establishment of their political office in Doha, Qatar, back in 2013. During the negotiations, regional players were playing active role in settling the Afghanistan issue through negotiations, and China was second to none in persuading Taliban to the negotiations.
Since the start of negotiations, the Taliban have visited and contacted various countries for support. China was, perhaps, the most important non-Muslim country that was frequently visited by the Taliban interlocutors, and its political leadership was consulted on different issues pertaining to end of foreign occupation of Afghanistan, and dealing with other opponents internally and externally. Taliban’s first unofficial visit to Urumqi, China, was reported in 2015 before the onset of Murree Peace Talks in Pakistan between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Moreover, China was an active member of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), the Kabul Process and the Moscow Process, and it was an observer in many other such forums. Owing to the vital role of China in the future development of Afghanistan and its sincerity in the peace process, Taliban had also appointed a special envoy for China.
China has invested a lot in Afghanistan. It was one of the largest investors in Afghanistan’s infrastructural development during the US-led occupation. It built roads, schools and hospitals and generously donated in humanitarian aid for the downtrodden Afghans during the last two decades. Currently, China, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, is a staunch supporter of Taliban’s return to Kabul. Reports suggest that China may be the first country to recognize Taliban as a legitimate government of Afghanistan.
Here, it is important to know as to what prompted China to become a trustworthy friend of the Taliban and come eye ball to eye ball with United States for their support along with Russia. A simple answer to this question is that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or no perennial enemies: only there are permanent national interests. In international arena, all states are rational actors and they act according to their needs and vested interests. For instance, Russia and Iran were the enemies of Taliban in the recent past, but, today, they support them just because their interests and needs have changed.
China has a lot of benefits in supporting the Taliban than any other puppet of India and US in Afghanistan. China’s Xinjiang province shares border with Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has sanctuaries in Badakhshan and is a credible threat to China’s border security. Taliban can be the only possible option to counter the influence of ETIM there. The ISIS, too, was getting strong foothold in some areas of Afghanistan and was a potential threat to China’s internal security and external stakes. Here again, Taliban were the best option to neutralize ISIS threat. Apart from security perspective, China is also interested in economic stability and prosperity of the region, and Afghanistan has the pivotal role to play in changing this region into an economic hub. China’s market will be open to the world if Afghanistan is stable and its land and air routes are available for safe transit trade to Central Asian Republics, Eurasia and Europe, and onward to the rest of the world through BRI. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), being an integral part of BRI projects, will get more benefits from peace and stability in Afghanistan. The benefits of CPEC in Pakistan and Chabahar in Iran can be seen when CPEC extends to Afghanistan and Chabahar along with Gwadar port’s shipping transfers to trucks that will pass through Afghan roads. For the said purpose, political stability and long-lasting peace in Afghanistan is inevitable and Taliban are guarantors of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
All these issues have been discussed at length with the Taliban by the Chinese policymakers and security officials. The visit of high-level Taliban delegation to China in July had the same agenda. Taliban, being interested in economic stability of Afghanistan were looking for such strong international collaborator and partner and China was the best option for that. China’s recent steps suggest that it is not interested in any one’s land and politics; it only needs peace and stability for running the economic activities smoothly. This policy will create soft corner for Chinese in the hearts of inhabitants of the region and the infrastructural development along with employment opportunities will prove life-changing for the citizens of the linked areas. The Taliban regime has a golden opportunity now to spread the web of economic activities and ensure economic integration of the region with Afghanistan at its center.
To cut short, Taliban’s control of Afghanistan will be a game-changer for the economic prosperity of the region under China’s stewardship, provided that the Taliban honour its pledges and promises. Apparently, the state of affairs shows that the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan will become a safe place for economic activities and materialization of extension of CPEC to Afghanistan will be done smoothly. Moreover, Pakistan’s role, as usual, will remain positive in supporting economic activities in Pak-Afghan and China’s linking areas. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey will also support the paradigm shift in the status of Afghanistan – from a buffer zone to economic hub – under the leadership of China. Nevertheless, the spoilers will always remain agile to derail the process of economic stabilization of Afghanistan as well as the regional economic integration. Likewise, US-India nexus will be out to use the miscreants to achieve that goal but through strict vigilance and better coordination, their nefarious designs can be foiled.
The author teaches at the Department of Political Science, University of Malakand Chakdara. He can be reached at email@example.com.