Pakistan PM Imran Khan meets Chinese President Xi Jinping Photograph:( Reuters )
China wants a slice of every country. Afghanistan is all the more special
In June 2020, a New York Times report said Russia was secretly offering bounties for US troops in Afghanistan. There have been numerous such reports, accusations and mudslinging. The United States is now looking to exit Afghanistan militarily, aAfter wasting 20 years and a trillion dollars.
Russia does not have a clear roadmap for Afghanistan. But there's something that's clear. America's exit will create a power vacuum in Kabul, one that certain neighbours would be more than happy to exploit.
The only way to check that is by ushering in strong governance in Afghanistan. The US wants India to play a role in ensuring that. As South Asia's biggest player, there is no other country better suited to do so.
India and Afghanistan have a long diplomatic history. The two countries share enormous goodwill, culture and people-to-people contacts.
But India's pitch in Afghanistan may be queered by two countries. Both have their vested interests in Kabul and a common goal to keep India out. These two countries are China and Pakistan.
China wants a slice of every country. Afghanistan is all the more special. It has a geographical proximity to Xinjiang. Afghanistan was once a safe haven for China's Uighur Muslims between 1996 and 2001 when Taliban was in power.
China does not want history to repeat itself. It also wants two other things.
One, to protect its Belt and Road interests in the region, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, especially. It's an approximately 62 billion dollar project. China cannot risk the safety of Gwadar port.
And two, China wants to keep India out of Afghanistan. The only way to ensure all of this is by shaking hands with the Taliban. And China is doing just that.
In the 1990s China was anti-Taliban. Today? Not so much. In 2016, China joined the quadrilateral coordination group. In 2019, China invited Taliban representatives to Beijing. In short, China has embraced the Taliban.
China has also used its cheque books to maintain good ties with the Afghan government. Reports say China provided $70 million in military aid to the Afghan govt between 2016 and 18. Beijing maintains that it wants to work with both the Taliban and the Afghan leadership.
The Taliban has thanked China for its support, by maintaining a silence on the Uighur genocide. So the Taliban's increased legitimacy will be in China's favour. It will also make Pakistan happy. Pakistan and the Taliban are long-standing allies. Islamabad has also been supporting other terror outfits like the Haqqani Network.
This is Pakistan's way of keeping India out of Afghanistan. And this is where Pakistani and Chinese interests meet. These countries are co-conspiring in Kabul.
There is nothing in it for Afghanistan. In December 2020, 10 Chinese spies were caught in Kabul. A recent example of how China is planting chaos while maintaining a facade of cooperation. China will never let democracy flourish in Afghanistan.
It will also eventually try to debt-trap the country.
China is only waiting for the peace process before it starts pouring in more millions. Now consider all the conspiracy, the careful planning, the backstage deals
Have they queered India's pitch in Afghanistan?
The next question is, how far is India prepared to go? There is no doubt that Afghanistan will become, or rather has become, a flashpoint between India and China.
Back in the 1990s, India and China were together in the anti-Taliban alliance. Today, China has an outreach programme for the Taliban, while India was largely absent from the peace negotiations. That is not to say India has had no role in the country.
India has helped rebuild Afghanistan with roads, dams, a parliament building, a cricket stadium, scholarships, capacity building, and a lot more.
Does it translate into political capital? It certainly creates immense goodwill. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. They signed the Shahoot dam agreement. India committed $236 million to build the dam.
Now the Taliban is set to be part of the Afghan government. India faces the difficult question of engaging with a terror group to help a country find peace. It's a turning point. But having a say is better than watching from the sidelines.