August 15 marks Independence Day in India, but for lakhs of Afghans, it spelt the end of freedom. On that day, the Taliban, with a speed and aggression which made a mockery of the expert analyses and simulations which had preceded the US’s hasty exit from Afghanistan, managed to take control of Kabul and complete their capture of power in Afghanistan. While the rest of the world has preferred to wait and watch to see how the Taliban consolidates its power, Pakistan and China have already made friendly overtures to the Taliban.
Pakistan’s move is hardly surprising – its deep state has strong ties with the Taliban – but China’s quick move towards the Taliban is a far riskier ploy for the Asian giant. A Chinese ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson stated that China “respects the wishes and choices of the Afghan people”. That statement belies the fact that the Afghan people were forced to make that ‘choice’ at gunpoint.
China is banking on the Taliban’s promise that it will not allow Afghan soil to be used as the base for carrying out actions inimical to China’s interests – read terror strikes by its Muslim minority Uyghur groups in Xinjiang, which shares a border with Afghanistan. However, as past experience has shown, the Taliban’s promises are not to be trusted.
In fact, attacks on Chinese projects and personnel in Pakistan should serve as a warning. In its haste to extend its geopolitical reach around India, China may find, as the British, imperialist and Soviet Russia and the US have already learnt, that Afghanistan has a well-deserved reputation for being the ‘graveyard of empires’.