Dr Sakariya Kareem
China’s recent decision to include and invite Afghanistan into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is clearly a move to help its “all-weather” ally Pakistan in achieving its strategic goal in Afghanistan – to convert it into a foothold against India, and the US.
By enticing Afghanistan into the ambitious project, China aims to kill two birds with one stone – entice Pakistan into a deeper mess and oust India as a responsible stakeholder in the region. It would pave the way for the Chinese to link up with Iran and further deeper into the Middle East, an overarching arc of influence which, if created, poses a direct threat to the US and its allies.
The move to include Afghanistan into the project has another compelling reason – the distant possibility of Pakistan reneging on its debt repayments and hoodwinking China. Keeping a toehold in Afghanistan could act as an insurance for China, against its stated ally, Pakistan.
In this new game, Afghanistan will be the biggest loser. The country is reeling under a fresh Taliban onslaught, engineered by Pakistan. More areas falling under the Taliban onslaught. The Americans are taking a big hit, so are the Afghan soldiers. With China showing a greater zeal in investing in the country, the Americans might just pack up go or co-opt China into bringing about some kind of settlement with the Taliban. Either way, the Afghans have nothing to gain. If the Americans leave, so would be their dollars. And if the Taliban remain, peace would be impossible to achieve. Without peace, there would be no development, no hope of a safer future for the Afghans.
There are even greater losses for Afghanistan in this new alignment. The biggest loss would be the departure of India, an ally of long standing. Not only would be the Indian effort to bring about peace, empower people and develop a stable, sustainable government come to a halt, Afghanistan, under the combined onslaught of Taliban-Pakistan regime, would find itself turning into a colony of another superpower-in the making and its agent in disguise, Pakistan.
India provides more than financial and political sustenance, it signals hope. For Afghans, India is a friend in need. There is a natural attraction between the Afghans and Indians. Afghans despise Pakistanis. They blame Pakistanis for most of their ills. They find Pakistanis treacherous and unworthy of their friendship. Pakistan’s continuous propping up of the Taliban has rendered the country’s valiant efforts to get up on its feet.
Pakistan’s state-run news channel PTV ran “Begging” dateline instead of “Beijing” on screen during the live broadcast of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech in China and became a target of trolling by netizens.
With the CPEC finding its way into Afghanistan, it would be the Pakistanis, and their friends from China, who would swarm across the country, a prospect which no self-respecting Afghan would visualise in her or his worst nightmare. Imagine, Pakistanis running the projects for the Chinese in Afghanistan, there could be no worse disaster for a country which has been desperate to retain its dignity and pride as an independent nation.
Not that the Chinese are any better. They are extremely wary of Muslims. The brutal repression of Muslim citizens of Xinjiang and other areas in China are a grim pointer to what would happen to the customs and traditions of Afghans. The Chinese have no love lost for Afghanistan in matters of economics either. They are like Shylocks, interested only in their investments and the returns, both in financial and strategic terms. They want to put a road-rail network across the Pathan country to move their goods to the markets of Middle East and Europe, and transport raw materials from Afghanistan or oil from Iran and other sources, all fast and cheap.
There is no place for Afghanistan in this scheme of things. The Chinese eagerness to woo Afghanistan is an afterthought, and not part of the grand scheme of things which they had visualised earlier.
The CPEC project is a ploy by China to extend its influence across Asia, and in Afghanistan, it would be Pakistan which would be China’s cat’s paw. Afghanistan should be beware of yet another attempt by Pakistan to strangle its future, this time towing the Chinese juggernaut.