China Extended Proxy Sphere
At the third China-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi held on July 24 at Chengdu, Wang Yi listed out a five-point joint action plan on Afghanistan: one, avoid expansion of war and prevent Afghanistan from falling into a full-scale civil war; two, promote intra-Afghan negotiations establish broad and inclusive political structure; three, resolutely combat terrorist forces; four, promote cooperation among Afghanistan’s neighbours, and; five; explore construction of a platform for cooperation among them (Afghanistan’s neighbours).
Though termed joint action plan, above was a diktat by Wang Yi who when talking of resolutely combating terrorist forces only spoke of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) because it is only the ETIM and Uyghur that China is concerned about. Otherwise, China considers not only the Taliban but all other terrorist organizations in Af-Pak region its ally, Pakistan being its major proxy. Highlights of the joint press release issued included:
- Commitment to facilitate and support ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace and reconciliation process.
- Support peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan.
- Condemnation of terrorist attack in Dasu (Pakistan) that killed nine Chinese and four Pakistanis.
- Pakistani brief on deteriorating situation in J&K and China reiterating opposition to any unilateral actions that complicate the situation.
- Reaffirmation of China’s support to Pakistan in safeguarding its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.
- Striving for a better external security environment.
- Agreement to push forward the CPEC aimed at unleashing its potential as a hub of regional connectivity.
China and Pakistan have been supporting and arming the Taliban even before the US invasion of Afghanistan; Pakistani regulars were operating inside Afghanistan at Kundus and Khost when US invaded. Subsequently Pakistani regulars operated as irregulars in support of the Taliban. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has periodically reported Pakistan-based terrorist organizations operating in Afghanistan.
On July 15 at the Central-South Asia Conference held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated in presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that Pakistan has not severed its relationships with terrorist organization and that more than 10,000 jihadi fighters entered Afghanistan in the last month.
The Afghan government has now informed India that Pakistan-based terrorist organization like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are shifting bases inside Afghanistan. According to an official, “The trend we have seen for last one year is that Pakistan has been trying to shift, all these international terror groups out of North and South Waziristan into Afghanistan.”
There are reports that number of jihadis killed in Afghanistan in past few weeks had Pakistani ID cards. This is not the first time – many Pakistanis have been killed periodically in Afghanistan over the years. Pakistani army officers and ISI operatives too have been fighting along with Taliban in Afghanistan, some even leading Taliban columns. Presently many injured Taliban are being treated in Pakistani hospitals. Madrasas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan are openly calling upon youth to join the jihad in Afghanistan.
General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, Afghan Army Chief had to postpone his visit to India because of the Taliban offensive. Many analysts are of the view that Pakistan-based terrorist organizations shifting bases into Afghanistan is aimed at using ungoverned places – same as other international terror groups. Such postulation fails to acknowledge why the Taliban have not severed ties with al-Qaeda and this whole move is a much larger strategic game being played by China.
In 2016, China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Afghanistan to incorporate Afghanistan into its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is not only extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan and beyond but included other projects like the China-Afghanistan Special Railway Transportation Project linking Afghanistan to China via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and the Five Nations Railway Project linking China to Iran via Kyrgyzistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Both countries have also initiated a fibre optic link via the Wakhan Corridor in the Badakhshan Province.
Linked to the above is speculation how China will fill the vacuum in Afghanistan caused by the exit of US troops. Beijing is no fool to rush in the PLA though Chinese development project around the world have PLA presence in civil attire. China had proposed to build a Brigade-level base for the Afghan Army in Badakshan and also help train them, which meant PLA presence for administration and training. China also eyes the $1-3 trillion minerals and oil reserves in Afghanistan, some of which it is exploring. In 2011, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) won a $400 million bid to drill three oil fields for 25 years, containing roughly 87 million barrels of oil.Chinese firms have also gained rights to mine copper at Mes Aynak in Logar province.
The thousands of jihadis being pumped into Afghanistan and Pakistan-based terrorist organizations shifting bases into Afghanistan are to support the Taliban, make up their cadres killed in fighting and most importantly accelerate Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. This is being orchestrated beautifully with all the sweet talk of facilitating Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan. The pattern is the same as China used in Pakistan and Myanmar.
In Pakistan,China’s advantage was that the Pakistani military and politicians were already dancing to Beijing’s tune. They had no compunction about surrendering the sovereignty of Pakistan to China and placed all Pakistani proxies also at the disposal of Beijing. So China had no difficulty in constructing the CPEC and associated projects. The PLA came in later on pretext of guarding the CPEC and the marines at Gwadar. Same will happen in Nepal in coming years.
In Myanmar, China did not enjoy the same luxury as in Pakistan. Hence, China established its own proxies individually and in conjunction Pakistan. These include the United Wa State Army (USWA), the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the United Liberation Front of West and Southeast Asia (ULFWSEA) and the like. In July 2020, Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hliang had told Russia’s state-run TV channel Zvezda that terrorist organizations in Myanmar are backed by strong forces (implying China) and sought international cooperation to suppress rebel groups.
Myanmar suspects China is trying to use terror groups as a bargaining chip for smooth implementation of its BRI projects – the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). It can be taken for granted that China will orchestrate situations to induct the PLA in Myanmar under pretext of guarding the CMEC and at Kyaukpyu deep-water port– same as Gwadar in Pakistan.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said Taliban see China as a “friend” to Afghanistan and is hoping to talk to Beijing about investing in reconstruction work as soon as possible. Suhail also said Taliban would no longer allow China’s Uyghur separatist fighters from Xinjiang, some of whom had previously sought refuge in Afghanistan, to enter the country. Taliban is welcoming China because it will: help Taliban takeover Afghanistan; rule Afghanistan in the manner they want; enjoy major share in minerals, oil and narcotics; take credit for infrastructure development, and; promote jihad globally in the manner they want but without supporting ETIM and Uyghur.
China aims to suck the entire Af-Pak region into its proxy sphere. Beijing’s geostrategic gains will include: promoting BRI projects linking Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran-Central Asia and beyond; deter US influence in Central Asia-Iran connectivity; exploit sub-conventional potential of this extended proxy platform to target the US, its allies and the West, and; exploit the global drug trade (‘Golden Triangle’ under Taliban and ‘Golden Crescent’ under UWSA) as part of its ‘Unrestricted Warfare’.
An interesting article titled ‘Pakistan’s proxy war in Afghanistan can be stopped with concerted international action’ has been penned by Chris Alexander, Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, on July 26. He writes that US President Joe Biden’s personal opposition over a decade to the US mission in Afghanistan need not define the world’s deeper commitment to peace and justice in Afghanistan and that Canada should take the diplomatic lead for Afghans to be spared another generation of violence, obscurantism and death. But with the China-Pakistan treachery and muscle power backing the Taliban will diplomacy work?