China’s Latest Move in the Graveyard of Empires
*Beijing’s strategic priority is to prevent ETIM fighters exiled in
Afghanistan crossing the Wakhan Corridor to carry out operations in
The latest plot twist in the endless historical saga of Afghanistan as a
graveyard of empires has thrown up an intriguing new chapter. For the past
two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of
setting up a military base alongside Afghanistan’s border with China.
“We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has
committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan
soldiers,” Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of
Defense, admitted to the AFP.
“We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has
committed to help the division financially, provide equipment and train the
Afghan soldiers,” he added.
On the record, the Chinese Foreign Ministry only admitted that Beijing was
involved in “capacity-building” in Afghanistan, while NATO’s Resolute
Support Mission, led by the United States, basically issued a “no comment.”
The military base will eventually be built in the mountainous Wakhan
Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that
extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan.
It is one of the most spectacular, barren and remote stretches of Central
Asia and according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are
already active there. True to Sydney Wignall’s fabled Spy on the Roof of
the World ethos, a great deal of shadow play is in effect. Apparently, this
is basically about China’s own war on terror.
Strategic priority
Beijing’s strategic priority is to prevent Uyghur fighters of the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who have been exiled in Afghanistan,
crossing the Wakhan Corridor to carry out operations across Xinjiang, an
autonomous territory in northwest China. There is also the fear that ISIS
or Daesh jihadis from Syria and Iraq may also use Afghanistan as a
springboard to reach the country.
Even though the jihad galaxy may be split, Beijing is concerned
about ETIM. As early as September 2013, the capo of historic al-Qaeda,
Ayman al-Zawahiri, supported jihad against China in Xinjiang.
Later, in July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh said:
“Muslim rights [should be] forcibly seized in China, India and
Palestine.” Then, on March 1, 2017, Daesh released a video
its presence in Afghanistan, with the terror group’s Uyghur jihadis vowing,
on the record, to “shed blood like rivers” in Xinjiang.
At the heart of the matter is China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or the New
Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and
For Beijing, the stability of one of its links, the $57 billion
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is seriously compromised if terror
threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China’s
sizable investments
Afghanistan’s mineral mining industry.
The Chinese and Russian strategies are similar. After all, they have been
discussed at every meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO),
of which Afghanistan is an observer and future full member. For the
Russia-China partnership, the future of a peaceful Afghanistan must be
decided in Asia, by Asians, and at the SCO.
In December,  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
diplomats from fellow BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)
member India that Moscow favors talking to the Taliban. He said this was
the only way to reduce the risk of terror operations emanating from
Afghanistan to Central Asia.
The question is which Taliban to talk to. There are roughly two main
factions. The moderates favor a peace process and are against jihadism,
while the radicals, who have been fighting the US and NATO-supported
government in Kabul.
Moscow’s strategy is pragmatic. Russia, Iran, India, Afghanistan and the
Central Asian “stans” have reportedly held meetings to map out possible
solutions. China, meanwhile, remains an active member of the Quadrilateral
Coordination Group (QCG)
a peace deal and reconciliation process which will include the Kabul and
the Taliban.
Beijing’s multi-pronged strategy is now clear. Ultimately, Afghanistan must
become integrated with CPEC. In parallel, Beijing is counting on using its
“special relationship” with Pakistan to maneuver the Taliban into a
sustainable peace process.
The appointment of Liu Jinsong
the new Chinese ambassador to Kabul is significant. Liu was raised in
Xinjiang and was a director of the Belt and Road Initiative’s $15 billion
Silk Road Fund from 2012 to 2015. He knows the intricacies of the region.
Six projects
Even before Liu’s arrival, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, had
announced that Beijing and Islamabad would extend CPEC to Kabul with six
projects selected as priorities. They included a revamped Peshawar-Kabul
highway and a trans-Afghan highway linking Pakistan, Afghanistan and
Central Asia.
Of course, that would neatly fall into place with a possible Chinese
military base in Gwadar port in Pakistan, the Arabian Sea terminal of CPEC,
and one in the Wakhan corridor.
Now, compare the Russia-China approach with Washington’s strategy.
President Donald Trump’s foreign policy
defeating the Taliban on the ground before forcing them to negotiate with
Kabul. With the Taliban able to control key areas of Afghan territory, the
Trump administration has opted for a mini-surge.
That may be as “successful” as President Obama’s
<> much-touted
2009 surge. The US government has never made public any projection for the
total cost of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
But according to the Dec. 8, 2014 version of a Congressional Research
Service <> document – the latest
to be made public – it had spent up until then, $1.6 trillion on the
invasion and military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Which brings us
to the question: Why does the US remain in Afghanistan?
After more than a trillion dollars lost and nothing really to show for it,
no wonder all eyes are now on Beijing to see if China can come up with a
‘win-win’ situation.
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  • [GELORA45] Tatiana Lukman [GELORA45]
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