Growing Chinese interest in affairs of Afghanistan with the active and determined support of Pakistan has surprised many recently, particularly in view of the rising power of Taliban in Kabul reflect5ng a mixture of national, regional and global politics in one stroke. In fact, the three decades 6f rivalry between China and the USA have resulted in shrinking US influence in the region of South Asia and elsewhere The USA remained powerful in the post-World War 2 phase and China became alert after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 followed by the aggressive attitude of the USA which formed militia groups heavily backed by Pakistan to fight against the Soviet Army which withdrew due to a decade of intense fighting, but it was a victory for none other than Taliban for whose formation a sound background was prepared as the Kremlin withdrawal paved the way for formation of Taliban, by Pashtun students studying in Pakistan.
In a further development the Taliban, taking advantage of anarchy and chaos prevailing in the country, took over the reign of administration in Afghanistan in 1996 which lasted for long five years or till the USA initiated the War On Terror in response to 9/11, leading to the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. Ultimately, a US-supported democratic regime was installed in the country which continued for further 20 years or till the full control of Taliban returned on 15 August 2021. Months earlier the US and NATO forces fully withdrew from Afghanistan and a pro-Pakistan, pro-China, Taliban captured power in Kabul. For the present, the joint strategy of China and Pakistan who helped Taliban in capturing power compelled the single superpower of the world to leave Afghanistan in disgust and repentance.
Outlook of the Policy
Traditional relations between China and Afghanistan had never been strained in history and maintained throughout by a balance based on give and take, but with the growing of China in regional and global competition with the USA, particularly in the sphere of the economy, encouraged Beijing to become active diplomatically in the region and specifically in Afghanistan where the USA was active against the USSR as a result of Cold War rivalry. Once again, the installation of US- supported government in Kabul to fight the terrorists of the region and Osama bin Laden’s group. It was also the beginning of warming of China-Afghan relations and in response, reflecting good gesture between the two. An exchange of visits by both sides took place in 2002 and signed the Agreement on Economic and Technical Co-operation of $30 million Chinese aid to Afghanistan.
By the end of the year China, along with five other neighbouring countries including Afghanistan, also signed the Kabul Declaration on Good Neighbourly Relations and reaffirmed its commitment to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Afghanistan to support the nation in peace process and reconstruction. The pace of their understanding and good will strengthened further by exchange of visits and agreements signed between them from time to time.
For the present, Beijing has responded favourably and in a statement maintained that China respects the wishes and choices of the Afghan people and the Taliban takeover had been the result of a measured national opinion. Earlier to this development in July 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted Taliban leaders including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and discussed matters of mutual interests. While it was a diplomatic/strategic victory for Beijing, it was a humiliating defeat for Washington to be revenged in future
In addition, the Afghan Mujahideen in the period of Soviet-Afghan war were also in touch with Beijing and the Chinese Liberation Army trained them when their Pakistani camps moved to China. They provided them anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and machine guns of hundreds of millions with Chinese advisors and army troops remaining ready for help and assistance. Thus, the Chinese authorities were in regular contact with Afghan government, public as well as various factions of Mujahideen.
In January 2016, Donald Trump became the 45thU US President and reviewed US long continuing policy towards Pakistan and helping the country in the name of combating terrorism in Afghanistan and on its own soil. While reviewing, the new President found that Islamabad was not working against the terror groups for which the country had been funded enough with arms and ammunitions. In response, Pakistan had used the funds for promoting the terror groups and strengthening them in Afghanistan where they f6ught the armies of the USA and other NATO countries.
In the light of these facts, Trump accused Pakistan of deceiving the USA by telling a lie throughout the period. In 2017 and 2018, on several occasions the President reiterated his stand on Pakistan publicly, and ultimately decided to withdraw from Kabul completely and the USA began to be involved in talks with Afghan government and Taliban groups on terms and conditions of withdrawal. On the other hand, the statement of the US President and the changed US attitude also hurt Islamabad and it began trying to assemble concerned parties on the negotiation table. It also sought Chinese help in the work with the aim to sideline India from the process of peace negotiations in Afghanistan and took tacit help from Russia whose enmity with the USA is well known. In the meantime, the graph of US image in Pakistan went down significantly and the general sentiment emerged in favour of China and Pakistan also accepted a number of military projects along with Beijing’s extensive economic support and huge investment.
Now, a clear-cut policy change occurred in the USA towards the Taliban and it recognised this group as a legitimate force to talk on the issue of withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the war-torn country. After a series of negotiations with Taliban and other allied forces they succeeded in getting an agreement done in early 2020 and with the coming of Joe Biden, the new President, only the final deadline for exit from Afghanistan was extended to September 2021. In the context the last six months proved very crucial and costly for the nation when the President of the country left the nation and an environment of anarchy, chaos, and brute use of force by Taliban and its allies began leading to the capturing of cities, one by one, the capital Kabul on 15 August 2021.
For the present, Beijing has responded favourably and in a statement maintained that China respects the wishes and choices of the Afghan people and the Taliban takeover had been the result of a measured national opinion. Earlier to this development in July 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted Taliban leaders including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and discussed matters of mutual interests. While it was a diplomatic/strategic victory for Beijing, it wasa humiliating defeat for Washington to be revenged in future.