Is the US withdrawal from Afghanistan a trap for China? Here’s a quick analysis on that possible 4D chess move.
Afghanistan has been the deadliest vortex for imperial/foreign armies for many centuries. And it was the perfect trap that America set for the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Contrary to the mainstream narrative, the USSR did not “invade” Afghanistan. As Brzezinski admitted in the 1990s, the U.S. wanted to create a “Vietnam for the USSR” — an unwinnable and humiliating war. Thus, the U.S. set up camps in Pakistan and armed/trained fundamentalist Afghan tribes. When these insurgents became intolerable, the Afghan government sought help from Russia, which had invested a lot of money in Afghanistan in the previous three decades.
Now, the U.S. may be trying the same playbook in Afghanistan. Only, this time, the target is China.
It is guaranteed that the Taliban is going to take over Afghanistan. Already, most of the country is under partial or full Taliban control.
So, what happens when the Taliban rules the country? A jihadist paradise right on China’s border. (And an epic humanitarian crisis).
A crucial reality of Afghanistan is that even if Taliban wins, the country won’t be unified or stable.
First, an inordinate number of countries are trying to influence the future of Afghanistan — not only Pakistan and China but also Iran, Russia, Qatar and Turkey. Way too many cooks in the kitchen.
Second, there are lots of ethnic and tribal conflicts. The Taliban represent Pashtuns, who are less than half of the population. Other ethnic groups — Tajiks – 25%, Shiites – 10%, Uzbeks – 10% etc. — will seek to establish their own autonomous regions.
Third, there are also numerous terrorist groups (with their own agendas) operating right now in Afghanistan — Al Qaeda, Haqqani, Daesh (Islamic State), Tehrir-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) etc. And they all have gotten very sophisticated as well. Taliban, by the way, is still officially categorized as a terrorist group by Russia.
Militants could sneak into Xinjiang or even attack Chinese-built infrastructure in Xinjiang or Pakistan.
More ominously for China, there are about 20,000 Uyghur militants in Syria. They have been fighting alongside of Al Qaeda and ISIS over the last seven years. These war-hardened and experienced fighters would love to come to Afghanistan and seek revenge against China. While Taliban won’t actively support Uyghur militants, it’s not going to actively fight them either.
The two prominent Uyghur jihadist groups are East Turkestan Islamic movement (ETIM) and Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), of which the former was founded with help from Bin Laden and the Taliban.
Chinese people and projects are already under attack by terrorists in Pakistan. In April 2021, the Chinese ambassador narrowly escaped a car bombing in Pakistan. There are also Pakistan-based Baluchistan separatists, who have launched several attacks on Chinese assets over the years. In the first half of 2021, there have been around 100 terrorist attacks in Pakistan, mostly carried out by TTP (Taliban’s branch in Pakistan).
How long can China stay neutral?
Imagine China invading and bombing a Muslim country. First, it will be the end of China’s narrative about “peaceful rise” and claims such as “We haven’t waged a war in 40 years.”
Second, it will be a PR nightmare for China, especially in the Islamic world. It will be Genocide 2.0. Western media will be making up endless streams of horror stories. The NY Times and BBC will be publishing photos of children killed by Chinese bombs every day.
Perhaps Xi Jinping can work with Pakistan and make a grand deal with the Taliban to avoid this geopolitical trap. This could mean bribing the Taliban leaders and building lots of infrastructure — highways, hospitals, housing projects, power plants etc. However, most warlords are not going to quickly put down their weapons and take up civilian jobs.
Moreover, Taliban isn’t a rational, peaceful group. It is literally the brother of Al Qaeda — both are offshoots of the Mujahedin from the 1980s. As experts put it: “The Taliban has not broken ranks with al-Qaeda and has no reason to do so. The two terrorist organizations are intertwined by intermarriage that has codified their relationship. Al-Qaeda will thrive under Taliban rule.”
Taliban is also ideologically close to ISIS. For example, Taliban bans music, dance, and movies; forces women to cover up from head to toe; and even bans girls from attending schools after the age of 10. Thanks to Taliban, 75% of Afghan women cannot read or write.
Taliban carries out beheading, stoning, and many other barbaric punishments. Taliban also frequently uses suicide bombing, sometimes even aimed at schools and hospitals. Finally, Taliban profits from extensive poppy farming and opium/heroin trafficking. How is China going to negotiate a diplomatic and lasting deal with such a monstrous group?
Unlike in Xinjiang, the CCP won’t be able to send these Afghan extremists to re-education camps and “transform their thoughts.”
And if Chinese trains or projects — under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — get attacked by terrorists, Xi will be forced to send in the military (PLA) to please his ultra-nationalist base at home.
And that will be a deadly Afghan trap that has ensnared and created the “Graveyard of Empires” for the Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Mughals, British, Russians, and Americans over the last 2500 years…