China is at it again. Nothing can deter it from indulging in Anti-India and Anti-US grandiloquence besides projecting itself as a certain replacement of America as ‘Super Power’, hence making relentless efforts to enhance its relevance and area of influence in Asia as well as other countries in the world.
In this backdrop, undaunted by the image of Taliban, infamous and notorious for medieval mindset, anti-women dictate, tendency to harbor terrorists etc. China is poised to adopt a new strategy and long-term plan to create trouble for India and the United States, which is evident from its recent decision to open a new mission in Kabul with immediate effect.
China has recently announced the appointment of Zhao Zhaohui as full time ambassador to Afghanistan, which makes it the first country in the world to establish a direct relation. Several nations including India had embassies in Kabul, but the volatile situation changed after the Taliban took over this troubled country. India had suspended its operations in Kabul but resumed functioning after one year in 2022.
China is eyeing 1 trillion mineral wealth in Afghanistan
Experts suggest that China has defied global opinion by establishing unofficial diplomatic relations with the Taliban. While appointing a full-time ambassador may not amount to direct recognition, it is seen as an indirect form of acknowledgment, a step that even neighboring Pakistan, which used to claim the role of 'Savior' of the Kabul regime, did not take. China has pursued a soft policy approach towards the Taliban, with the aim of luring the new regime into its debt trap to exploit Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth.
On April 13, 2023, China's Gochin company expressed its willingness to invest $10 billion in Afghanistan's lithium deposits, a move confirmed by the Taliban's Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. The Chinese company has assured the Taliban government that it will generate 1 million indirect jobs and 120,000 direct jobs in the country through this investment. Similarly, in January 2023, Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co (CAPEIC) signed a $540 million deal to extract oil from northern Afghanistan's Amu Darya basin, as part of a larger plan to tap into the extensive mineral wealth valued at around $1 trillion.
According to calculations by a joint team from the Pentagon, the US Geological Service, and USAID, Afghanistan's mineral deposits are estimated to be worth at least $900 billion. This untapped mineral wealth includes gold (e.g., Takkar and Ghazni, totaling 2698 kg), copper (e.g., Kabul and Logar, totaling 12.34 million kg), aluminum (e.g., Babul and Baghlan, totaling 4.5 million tons), iron (e.g., Badakhshan and Kandahar, totaling 2.26 million tons), and graphite (e.g., Badakhshan, totaling 5,000 kg).
China wants to target America
China is keen to send the message to the world that it can spread its influence in other nations like the United States which is pursuant to its ambition to become a super power. It intends to expand its China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor through Afghanistan which may create security concerns for several neighbors. China may exploit Anti-US sentiments in Afghanistan and start oil exploration which could be part and parcel of economic strategy.
Analysts opine that it will not be easy to succeed in Afghanistan which is known as “graveyard of empires” and witnessed defeats of several nations including the United States. The Soviet Union was defeated in 20th century though China’s entry is based on its policy to exploit minerals hence it is trying to create an impression of subsequently benefiting the people of Afghanistan in the job sector besides earning huge revenues.
China has abandoned Pakistan and is directly trapping the Taliban regime which has already fallen to its prey. Taliban’s desperate effort to survive is also a contributory factor in developing close ties with China which has pounced upon this rare opportunity. China will target Afghanistan to expand its Belt and Road initiative which involves an investment of billions of USD and Taliban may accept it as a possible methodology of generating employment and path of development which may prove as a Mirage.
Pakistan falls apart, and China overtakes it
In view of a wishful thinking of Pakistan, efforts were made to sell to the world that it will dictate Taliban regime hence it manipulated to keep India out of Doha dialogue which prepared a roadmap of US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. But turmoil and strained ties between Pakistan and Taliban has changed the entire scenario. Pakistan was on forefront since 2021 when Taliban assumed reign of power in Kabul but its ‘joy-ride’ to needle India proved to be ‘short-lived’ as former has accused the latter of promoting and supporting the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan(TTP) which killed 179 people in Pakistan in 2022. TTP killed over 100 people in mosque attack in January,20023 which was one of the deadliest actions by this terror group and shook people of Pakistan and army.
India must adopt a counter strategy to block China's entry into the mineral arena
Piqued over the grand success of G20 in new Delhi, China may like to capture Taliban who desperately need dome protector following their failure to get international recognition though two years have elapsed since they took over reign of power in Kabul on August 15,2021. Xi’s absence in G20 did not make much difference and India produced the Delhi declaration, which was having unanimity, thereby enhancing its stature in world diplomatic arena. Due to a huge investment of about Rs 22,350 crore in various projects, education and social sector, India faces an unimaginable challenge of dealing with Taliban if they walk in the trap laid by China. Secondly, India’s North-South-Corridor may be affected after the active involvement of China in Afghanistan. Taliban have appreciated India’s investment in Afghanistan in the past but nothing is certain about future investment.
Chinese Muslims are fleeing owing to persecution in their home province Xinjiang to seek sanctuary in Afghanistan. In case, China succeeds in cultivating relations with Taliban regime, then it will make easier for China to exert its authority in these troubled areas.
(Writer is political analyst and senior journalist based in Shimla)