Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

China’s role in stabilising Afghanistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Limits on China's role in Afghanistan

Context

Amid the gloom that has enveloped Afghanistan, one hope for many countries has been China’s potential role in stabilising it.

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.
  • But little came out of the understanding after the Wuhan summit in 2018.
  • 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, Kabul’s western neighbour, also has deepening ties with China.
  • Bilateral cooperation with the U.S.: Washington, now locked in an escalating confrontation with Beijing, sees Afghanistan as a potential area of bilateral cooperation. 
  • Role of Pakistan: Beijing 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 Kabul’s political calculus in limiting Pakistan’s quest for dominance.

Two challenges in China playing role in stabilising Afghanistan

1) Caution in Chinese policy

  • The first relates to the deep sources of caution in Chinese policy.
  • Neither the prospect of mining Afghanistan’s natural resources nor the vanity of being the newest superpower will compel China to rush into the Afghan vacuum.
  • China has deep concerns about Taliban’s ideology and its potential role in fomenting instability in its restive Muslim-majority province, Xinjiang. 
  • Beijing cannot depend on its special relationship with the Pakistan army to ensure the security of China’s frontiers as well as its investments in Afghanistan.
  •  The growing attacks on CPEC projects in Pakistan, underline the difficulty of pursuing economic development amid endemic violence.

2) Priorities of Taliban

  • The second set of problems relate to the priorities of Taliban.
  • It remains to be seen whether the economic development of Afghanistan is a top priority for the Taliban or not.
  • Also, is it open to let in foreign capital and all the baggage that comes with it?
  • More fundamentally, there is no clarity on the role of economic modernisation in Taliban’s fierce insistence on the creation of an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

It is against this backdrop that the chances of China playing a major role in stabilising Afghanistan remain slim.

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