China Fears Taliban Rule In Afghanistan May Harm BRI

China is concerned about terror groups like Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan while its close ally Pakistan, in contrast, wants to see a Taliban government that will be remotely controlled by Islamabad, according to an expert in international affairs.

In the backdrop of US-Taliban peace talks, China does not want to see a Taliban government in Afghanistan as its primary concern regarding terrorism in Afghanistan is about the security of Xinjiang Province, which is home to the Uyghur Muslims, according to Habiba Ashna writing in an op-ed article for Pajhwok News Agency.

The writer says the security of Xinjiang Province is directly relevant for Beijing’s ‘March West’ strategy which includes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and related projects in Central Asian countries. For China, the key is to counter jihadi terrorism in this regard.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s outright support to the terror groups in the region, many of which have foreign fighters and are based in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to name a few, is unlikely to help to ensure security in Xinjiang and its nearby areas of the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan.

According to Ashna, China’s move of engaging Pakistan and Afghanistan on a bilateral level is seen as an attempt to ensure that Pakistan’s support to jihadi terrorism does not move into Beijing and endanger any BRI project.

“From Kabul’s vantage point, China is the only country that is likely to be able to keep Pakistan in check. From Pakistan’s vantage point, this trilateral is useful for both optics, as well as to remain relevant in any Afghanistan-China dialogue,” the author notes.

The Taliban is not seen as anti-China so far and Beijing maintained direct communication channels with it since the 1990s when the terror group was in power in Afghanistan. However, China does not hold a direct grip over the Taliban, but it is Pakistan which possesses such leverage.

Hence, a Taliban government in Afghanistan will mean a “fundamentalist Islamist theocracy” in control over a strategic territory with China having limited controls over the developments, says Ashna.

The writer states, “Combined with the US’s increasing inroads in Central Asia (especially with the US’s new February 2020 Central Asia Strategy), and the thawing US-Taliban relationship, this does not portend well for Chinese objectives.”

In contrast, Pakistan believes that installing a Taliban government in Afghanistan will be a way to ensure its own security along its western borders and it is unlikely that it will abandon such attempts.

“While economic interests could, perhaps to a degree, enable overcoming this conundrum, the extent to which it has the potential to calibrate these opposing priorities is debatable. As such, at present, the trilateral relationship is unlikely to deliver any substantial outcome,” the author notes.

The intra-Afghan talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban opened in Qatar’s Doha on Saturday, which is aimed at establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war.

The Afghan government’s 21-member negotiating team was led by Masoom Stanekzai, a former intelligence chief. On the other hand, the Taliban was led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the terror group’s chief justice and a close aide of the group’s chief Haibatullah Akhunzada, Al Jazeera reported.

Speaking at a conference on Afghan peace negotiations in Doha through video conferencing, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that Afghan soil should never be used for carrying out anti-India activities, in an apparent reference to Pakistan. (ANI)

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