What the Rise of the Taliban means for China and India
On the 29th of February, the US and Taliban reached a consensus on a peace settlement which had the subsequent provisions: Withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan and Taliban support to limit the authority of Al – Qaeda. With the change of power in the US, the responsibility of this deal (originally signed by former President Trump) fell upon the leadership of newly elected Joe Biden. Biden administration decided to continue with the agreement signed and proposed a deadline of this fall.
The decision by President Biden to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by 31st August 2021, after two decades of military presence in the region has caused immense uncertainty regarding the war-torn nation’s future. Withdrawal of troops at this point has led to drastic repercussions for the Afghan people leading to greater presence and authority of the Taliban alongside grave economic distress.
The withdrawal not only affects Afghanistan but has severe implications on India and South Asia as well. President Biden had expressed on the US Withdrawal that the American military has empowered the police and Afghan people to support themselves and laid down the brick for the nation’s growth. US withdrawal is being seen by the rest of the world as a move by Washington to shift its Asian policy ground from the Middle East to Indo – Pacific. The USA has long been au fait with the strategic expansions of its greatest rival – China, and this shift has been hinted to suppress China while expanding its capabilities and interests beyond its maritime neighbours.
While on one hand, the US is intent on substantially building its presence in the Indian Ocean and Southeast China Sea to counter China, on the other Beijing is happy with this exit. China has vested numerous investments in Afghanistan and this pass does assemble extra areas for China’s expansion. More importantly, as a substitute, it explicitly provides information about the downfall of the capitalist state, the USA. China’s interest in Afghanistan and eagerness have also been linked to its agreeable relations with the Taliban. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist force created in the latter half of the 1990s by Pakistani intelligence returned to power initially after a decade of strong control by the American military. Entering the scene as a conservative cluster with political and social control, they enforced Sharia law and took control of Kandahar which was marked in history as the starting point of the fall of Afghanistan.
China’s agreeable relations with the Taliban have been quite off the radar for the world. In 1996, when the Taliban proclaimed its goal to the rest of the world in establishing an Islamic Caliphate, the then President of China, Jiang Zemin was the first world leader to establish formal relations with the Taliban. In the same year, China launched direct flights between Urumqi (Xinjiang’s capital) and Kabul. On 9th November 2001, there was an agreement signed by Chinese officials with the Taliban for a greater economic and technical understanding.
The void left in Afghanistan has subsequently boosted the motive in Beijing to exploit Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources and most importantly, link the Central Asian country with Belt and Road's flagship project – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi exclaimed that the US must be stopped from creating tense situations in its zonal neighbours like Pakistan, Afghanistan etc. China has also offered to build roads and infrastructure projects in Taliban-occupied areas. These moves by China have also paved the way for rise of the Taliban.
Taliban’s strong regime crumbled in 2001 after the US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks. In late 2018, when the Trump administration was determined to bring back its soldiers, it marked the rise of the Taliban's second march. While the US – Taliban War had destroyed Afghanistan to its ashes, it didn’t do much harm to the opponent belligerents, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and its allies Al - Qaeda, IMU and TNSM. Funding for the Taliban’s operations remained intact despite being denied support from several governments. Even after the US ousted them initially, several reports showed Beijing maintaining ties with sources in Pakistan where the Taliban sought refuge.
At the time of the aforementioned peace deal’s signing, the militant group was in control of around 20% of Afghanistan’s districts compared to 33% of the Afghani Forces. Towards the end of July 2021, when they were headed close towards the capital, Kabul, it sparked another instance to show the rise of the Taliban. With Washington having called for a retreat, Beijing is most likely to increase its mark by a greater attachment with the Taliban. China has extended its assent to the Taliban and complete economic development support. With America’s exit, it has laid the path for China to fill the void and the rise of the Taliban is now inevitable.
These developments in Central Asia with China and the US involved have far greater implications for India. Over the years, India has had strategic interests in Afghanistan and has instituted friendly diplomatic relationships with them. India has funded several developmental projects in Afghanistan alongside investing in education, health, irrigation, and power generation projects. The main cause of concern for New Delhi is the Taliban’s reappearance. This will indisputably provoke and create support for extremist elements through India-focused militant groups such as Lashkar- e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The withdrawal from Afghanistan will only bring greater trouble for South Asia as the US military’s presence has constant control over the radical extremist forces, which has created a favourable environment for India-Afghanistan relations to develop.
With Afghanistan being a major prospect in Central Asia, its fall has led to greater harm for India. New Delhi is wary of the situation and with Beijing quick to act upon safeguarding its interests by leveraging with the Taliban, it would only cause greater extremism for China’s foreign interests. The Indian Government has already begun to look for strategies like broadening its engagements with Iran, Russia and exploring opportunities for cooperation with China. It is also looking to appoint a special envoy dedicated to Afghan reconciliation. With the US now no longer in check-in Central Asia, China would rise to the occasion for being the major power in the zonal region, according to several experts. With the current situation between India and China with regards to its north-eastern borders, the implications are worrying.
India and Pakistan both are in close vicinity to Afghanistan and any political instability in the region will affect the two nations. Islamabad has been supportive of the Taliban in the past which has made several experts believe that it would extend its support after America’s exit. With Danish Siddiqui, an Indian photojournalist killed while covering the conflict and destruction of the Salma Dam (India – Afghanistan friendship Dam), the times to come seem disturbed. Taliban’s gains in recent events have already worsened India’s prospects in Afghanistan. Taliban spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen had also warned India against playing any military role in Afghanistan.
Reports stated that Pakistan would elevate domestic pressure to reciprocate over Kashmir through stand-in operations in Afghanistan. The drone attack on the IAF in Jammu adds some reliability to this analysis. With already deteriorating relations between the US and Iran, these events have led to greater threats on the dynamics of India – Iran – US relations. With such developments, India needs to brace itself for any international or trade impacts related to its interests in Central Asia. It needs to build a strategic approach, one that is military and economic to ensure peace in our nation and safeguarding foreign interests. India needs to take greater precautionary measures to curtail terrorist attacks and realign its policies towards a changing power dynamic in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
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Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy: In Brief, Congressional Research Service, 11 July 2021 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R45122.pdf
REVISITING INDIA’S ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN, Carnegie India https://carnegieendowment.org/files/6152017_Paliwal_IndiasRoleinAfghanistan_Web.pdf
China moves swiftly to exploit the void in Afghanistan, Nikkei Asia, 27 July 2021, https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/China-moves-swiftly-to-exploit-the-void-in-Afghanistan
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