Daily Current Affairs 23.08.2021 (In Afghan collapse, the fall of international relations, China will not get drawn into a serious security role in Afghanistan)

Daily Current Affairs 23.08.2021 (In Afghan collapse, the fall of international relations, China will not get drawn into a serious security role in Afghanistan)


1.In Afghan collapse, the fall of international relations

That global mediation has had a positive role in asking for a more pragmatic attitude from the Taliban is wishful thinking

The heartbreaking images of Afghans clinging on to a United States Air Force plane in Kabul, on August 16, in a desperate bid to flee Afghanistan is a reminder of the fall of Saigon, Vietnam, and the horrifying scenes of American diplomats evacuated by helicopter, leaving behind supporters to languish in re-education camps. We have the urge to ask this question: Who is responsible for the return of the Taliban and a new rise of barbarism in the name of Allah in Afghanistan?

One-sided accord

In his defiant speech justifying his Afghanistan policy, U.S. President Joe Biden conveniently omitted acknowledgement of his responsibility for the disastrous endgame. He squarely laid the blame on the Afghan government and army for all the problems. One cannot shift the blame away from the Biden administration for the current chaos in Afghanistan. But one has to recognise the fact that once the predecessor administration of President Donald Trump and U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad signed the disastrous one-sided agreement with the Taliban, the fate of Afghanistan was sealed. It was just a matter of time. Whether keeping 2,500 personnel or 5,000 personnel or just one American soldier would have made a difference is subject to conjecture.

Lessons missed

This does not mean that the decision to withdraw American soldiers was wrong per se; rather, there was obviously inadequate planning in preparing the operation. As usual, many innocent people were left behind. There was certainly a moral failure in getting out as many of those Afghans who supported the U.S. intervention and military presence in Afghanistan as possible. One historical lesson that was not learned was the predictable collapse of the Afghan government. The surrender to the Taliban slowly gained pace in the months following the Doha deal in 2020, but it began to snowball as soon as Mr. Biden announced in April that U.S. forces would withdraw from Afghanistan.

But there is a second part to the debacle in Afghanistan. Surprisingly, when we think of the Taliban, we have in mind a shabby army of 70,000 fervently Islamist foot soldiers confronting and defeating a modern Afghan army of 3,00,000 men. However, the world was surprised by the speed of the Taliban army in reconquering Afghanistan, from Kunduz on August 7-8 through Mazar-i-Sharif and every other provincial capital last week to Kabul on Sunday. Certainly, one of the reasons for the defeat of the Afghan army has been the poor training and corruption of the Afghan officers.

We can also add that the strategy of pushing the Taliban into the mountains and hinterlands, while securing towns and cities by the Afghan army did not work as expected. It took the Taliban only a few weeks to sweep away the Afghan army, which had been financed and trained by the United States for 20 years.

It is impossible to predict how the current situation will evolve. But we can have a better understanding of the Taliban’s violence if we go back to their history. The Taliban was a Pashtun movement which appeared in the early 1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.

Posing a danger

Once in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed their own violent and authoritarian version of Sharia Law, exemplified by ‘punishments such as public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, amputations for those found guilty of theft and imposing the all-covering burka for women. Television, music and cinema were also banned by the Taliban and girls aged 10 and over were forbidden to go to school’. All these previous actions show that the Taliban will rule Afghanistan once again with extreme violence and barbarity. However, some analysts continue to believe that because of the negotiations in Doha, there is room for compromise with the Taliban and that international mediation has played a positive role in asking for a more pragmatic attitude from the Taliban. This is just wishful thinking that ignores the fact that the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan will be a great danger for all Afghans and the neighbouring countries. Let us not forget that once again, terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State will take advantage of the new rise of the Taliban to create their own power bases in Afghanistan.

Challenge for diplomacy

Last but not least, on a human level, the fate of the Afghan people under the new Taliban government is most important. One thing is certain. The sufferings of the Afghans will not end under Taliban rule. From the point of view of international affairs, it will certainly take a Herculean effort to maintain decent working relations with the Taliban. However, India, Iran, Russia, and China are hoping for stability and an end to bloodshed in Afghanistan. But the return of the Taliban will not necessarily be welcomed by all these countries despite the fact that they would rejoice at America’s setback. There will also be a fear of Islamic jihadism all over West Asia, including in Turkey and in Saudi Arabia. So, all and for all, the Afghan debacle is not the story of a defeat of democracy in one country but a sign of a fiasco in international politics in general.

2.‘China will not get drawn into a serious security role in Afghanistan’

Beijing’s economic engagement will likely remain calibrated, ultimately depending on whether the new regime can gain international legitimacy, he says

How is China likely to deal with the Taliban? Despite Beijing’s early positive signalling that it “stands ready” to work with the yet-to-be-formed new government in Kabul and its open celebration of the manner of the U.S. exit, there remain deep apprehensions in China about the Taliban and its links to jihadist groups. With an “obsessive focus” in Beijing on Afghanistan being “a graveyard of empires”, China will not get drawn into a serious security role and its economic engagement will likely remain calibrated, ultimately depending on whether the new regime can gain international legitimacy, says Andrew Small, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund and author of The China Pakistan Axis. Edited excerpts:

China said shortly after the Taliban takeover, that it “stands ready” to work with Afghanistan. What have you made of China’s response so far to the events in Kabul?

You already had these signals being given, particularly with the meeting that took place in July between Mullah Baradar and Wang Yi which was this unusually well-publicised interaction between the two sides. China has been preparing for a changeover here in a way that is more serious than had been the case in the preceding period. They’ve had this long-standing relationship with the Taliban and were one of the few actors to deal with them, even in exile in Pakistan. They want to have a benign relationship with the Taliban. This is something that at this stage they can offer – just this kind of diplomatic signalling for the moment. I don’t think it changes a lot of the apprehensions that are there, but it’s indicative, particularly keeping the Chinese Embassy in Kabul open in the manner that they did, that they have a certain level of confidence in the way that some of these early dynamics with them will be handled.

Some of those apprehensions have in the past dominated how China looks at dealing with the Taliban, specifically its links to jihadist groups active in China’s Xinjiang region. Do those concerns still very much remain?

They do. Certainly you have seen this well-prepared propaganda operation on the Chinese side to make the most of the U.S. withdrawal and try to use this to indicate this should be treated as a signal to other U.S. allies. They’ve been preparing for the U.S. withdrawal for some time. I don’t think they had anticipated it would be conducted in such a disastrous manner. So there’s a certain amount of additional hay that they can make with this, but they didn’t want to see this happen. That’s very clear. They did not want to see the U.S. withdraw in advance of some kind of a political settlement in Afghanistan. They wanted to see the Taliban somewhat constrained by the need to reach political agreement with other parties in Afghanistan and to some extent being a little bit more beholden to other international actors as well. The concern now is they’re taking power in a maximally-emboldened fashion.

Those concerns that were there all the way back to the late 1990s have not gone away – about Uighur fighters operating in territory that the Taliban control, that there’s a permissive environment for them. If you look at the groups that directly threatened China – not so much the Chinese mainland or Xinjiang itself but particularly soft Chinese targets in the rest of the region – you have the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, that have conducted operations against Chinese targets. If you have seen the recent developments with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Chinese investments in Pakistan, there’s been far more anxiety about the security situation there in the last few months than in the last few years. They are concerned that effectively, Afghanistan could be used as strategic depth for the Pakistani Taliban, and that would have implications for their investments and security interests in the country. The attack that we saw a few weeks ago in Dasu [on July 14 in which 9 Chinese were killed] was probably the largest loss of life you’ve seen in a terrorist attack on Chinese personnel in Pakistan, full stop.

Do you think China’s approach to Afghanistan will broadly be more of the same, where they are likely to be mainly only involved in economic projects? Chinese experts in the press have been saying China isn’t going to in a big way fill in any security vacuum. Do you expect continuity or any dramatic change?

On the security front, there is an obsessive focus on the Chinese side on “the graveyard of empires”, that this is a strategic trap. They do not want to be drawn, sucked into a serious security role in the country. So I would see very little change on that front, aside from going into the details on some of the counterterrorism activities, such as what the Chinese were conducting in Badakhshan [which borders Xinjiang] and things like that. I think anything broader would be extremely limited. They will be extremely wary of that.

The question on the economic side is, what kind of economic involvement would China want? I think China sees this as stability first, investment later. With the Belt and Road, how comfortable is China really going to be with putting in place an expanded set of infrastructure connections, when they’re very worried about this becoming a militant hub in the region?

Why in News

Recently, China and Pakistan have decided to launch Joint Actions in Afghanistan to stop the war-torn country from becoming a hotbed for terrorism.

  • The recent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has been matched by the swift advance of the Taliban across the nation.

Key Points

  • Joint Action: It has been outlined in five areas:
    • To avoid the expansion of war and prevent Afghanistan from falling into a full-scale civil war.
    • To promote the intra-Afghan negotiations between the government and the Taliban and establish “a broad and inclusive political structure”.
    • To resolutely combat terrorist forces and push all major forces in Afghanistan to draw a clear line against terrorism.
    • To promote cooperation among Afghanistan’s neighbours and to explore the construction of a platform for cooperation among them.
    • To closely work on international fora on the Afghan issue.
  • Need:
    • Terrorism in Pakistan:
      • Pakistan is concerned over the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been waging an insurgency against the country for several years.
    • Rise in Uyghur Militants:
      • China is worried over the regrouping of the Uyghur militants from Xinjiang, China who operate under the aegis of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which Beijing alleges has links with Al-Qaeda.
        • The recently released 12th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the United Nation has confirmed the presence of the ETIM militants in Afghanistan.
    • Economic Interests:
      • If the situation in Afghanistan further deteriorates, Pakistan as well as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be in danger. Also many other Chinese projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be in danger.
        • There was a recent bomb attack on a shuttle bus carrying Chinese engineers at Dasu area of Upper Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan where a Chinese company is building a 4320-mw dam on the Indus river.
        • India has opposed the CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), although China has pushed ahead with projects and stepped up its investments in PoK.
  • Background of Situation in Afghanistan:
    • On 11th September 2001, terrorist attacks (9/11) in America killed nearly 3,000 people.
      • Osama Bin Laden, the head of Islamist terror group al-Qaeda, was quickly identified as the man responsible.
    • The Taliban, radical Islamists who ran Afghanistan at that time, protected Bin Laden, and refused to hand him over. So, a month after 9/11, the US launched airstrikes against Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom).
    • After the attacks, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition troops declared war on Afghanistan.
    • The US dislodged the Taliban regime and established a transitional government in Afghanistan.
    • In July 2021, the US troops departed from the biggest airbase in Afghanistan after the 20-year-long war, effectively ending their military operations in the country.
    • The US withdrawal has turned the balance of power in the battleground in favour of the Taliban.
  • India’s Interests:
    • Investments:
      • Protecting its investments, which run into billions of rupees, in Afghanistan.
    • Taliban:
      • Preventing a future Taliban regime from being a pawn of Pakistan.
    • Pakistan’s Terror Base:
      • Making sure that the Pakistan-backed anti-India terrorist groups do not get support from the Taliban.
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