Afghanistan: Beijing and Islamabad’s outrage is illusive

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. (File Photo: AP)
Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. (File Photo: AP)

While addressing troops at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan on May 25, 2014 the then US President Barack Obama gave many assurances, including that of an early withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Though it took seven years for this to happen, two of Obama’s promises (one- “America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end,” and two- “America’s commitment to the people of Afghanistan will endure,”) haven’t been fulfilled by present incumbent President Joe Biden.

Right from Cuban exiles who participated in the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion by [1961], to the South Vietnamese and more recently the Syrian Kurds, Washington has seldom stood by its allies in testing times. Hence, there’s nothing outrageous or unprecedented about its Faustian deal with Taliban to withdraw from Afghanistan with no concern whatsoever about its consequences. So, even though Washington keeps invoking lofty principles and talks about ethical proprietary in all its discourses, history bears testimony to the fact that Washington doesn’t quite practice what it so vociferously preaches!

Both Beijing and Islamabad are crying foul after Washington commenced withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin unambiguously expressed Beijing’s dismay by saying, “The US disregards its responsibilities and duties and withdraws troops from Afghanistan hastily, dumping the mess and war on the Afghan people and countries in the region.”

Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf has termed the prevailing situation in Afghanistan as “extremely bad and out of Pakistan’s control,” echoing Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s 2020 remark that “If [US] withdrawal is not systematic, we are concerned that Afghanistan may get sucked into the situation that we experienced in the 1990s, when there was anarchy, civil war, instability.” Thus, Islamabad has taken a swipe at Washington and indirectly blamed it for the current mess in Afghanistan.

While Beijing and Islamabad’s concerns about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan are well founded, yet they can’t pretend to have been taken unawares since the decision to completely pull-out US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, wasn’t taken overnight. Moreover, the day Washington accepted Taliban’s unreasonable demand of keeping Kabul out of negotiations on the future of Afghanistan, it became absolutely clear that the US would ultimately end up abandoning Kabul and leaving the Ashraf Ghani government to fend for itself.

Nor can China and Pakistan feign being surprised by Taliban’s offensive against Afghan government forces. Readers would recall that while Taliban ceased all military action against US troops after signing the 2020 Doha Agreement, it continued attacks against Afghan security forces. Washington has further compounded its initial blunder of excluding Kabul from its negotiations with Taliban by maintaining a stoic silence on unprovoked attacks on its ally, and thus left no room for doubt regarding sole concern for its own vested interests.

There are good reasons to believe that China had not only foreseen this eventuality but cunningly invested for the future by covertly wooing Taliban, as the following developments indicate:

  • In 2008, when an intense battle between US-led coalition forces and Taliban was raging in Afghanistan, a consortium of two Chinese state-owned companies (China Metallurgical Group Corporation and Jiangxi Copper Company Limited) signed a $2.9 billion contract with Kabul to mine copper from the Mes Aynak mines [believed to contain the second largest high quality copper ore deposits in the world], located North of Kabul. Whereas mining operations haven’t commenced yet, this delay can be attributed to the volatile security situation. However, in 2016, the Taliban made an unexpected announcement that read, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [official designation of Taliban] directs all its mujahideen to help in the security of all national projects that are in the higher interest of Islam and the country,” and specified that the Mes Aynak mines is one of the sites the Taliban is “committed to safeguarding.” It’s obvious that such an announcement would only have been made if there was some ongoing interaction and congruency between Beijing and Taliban.
  • Even though Beijing has publicly expressed concerns about the safety of its citizens in Afghanistan and even evacuated 210 of its nationals last week, it seems to be in touch with Taliban. Why else would Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen suddenly broach the issue of China being “a friendly country” and also give two major assurances- one, that of ensuring safety of Chinese investments in Afghanistan, and two, in a clear departure from the past, declaring that Taliban won’t host Uighur Muslim separatists belonging to China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. By welcoming Beijing for carrying out “reconstruction and developing Afghanistan,” Shaheen has clearly indicated that Beijing has already struck a quid pro quo covert deal to provide assistance to Taliban in return for the safety of its investments and denying anti-China armed groups sanctuary!

Islamabad’s concerns with what’s happening in Afghanistan is understandable, but what is not is its extraordinary efforts to deny any involvement in the current crisis. During the Pak-Afghan bilateral dialogue last month, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Afghanistan “is a shared responsibility and nobody is going to buy it anymore that if things go wrong, [then] Pakistan is responsible.” Last week he became more specific by saying, “The situation in Afghanistan is worsening and holding Pakistan responsible for the [worsening] situation was not fair.” Even Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf attempted to distance Islamabad from what’s happening in Afghanistan by saying “The situation is bad and out of Pakistan’s control.”

Even though Islamabad is projecting itself as a helpless onlooker, worried about the escalating violence in Afghanistan, a foresighted and steadfast Rawalpindi has played its cards well. Remember how in 2016, despite being told by government officials that Pakistan Army should act against terrorists to prevent Pakistan from being isolated internationally, Rawalpindi didn’t oblige and kept its terror infrastructure intact. Two years later, even after the then US President Donald Trump tweeted that Pakistan continues providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan” and threatened to cut aid, Rawalpindi didn’t budge, even though the country was near bankruptcy.

Last month, Trump’s assertion of Pakistan providing safe havens to Taliban was once again vindicated when Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed admitted during a TV show that “Taliban families live here, in Pakistan, in Rawat, Loi Ber, Bara Kahuh and Tarnol.” He even went on to add that “Sometimes their [Taliban fighters] dead bodies arrive and sometimes they come here in hospitals to get medical treatment.” Qureshi contends that “We have no favourites. There is a general buzz that we are advocates of the Taliban. I am not and I don’t represent them, I represent Pakistan.” However, if this is indeed true, then what makes Interior Minister Ahmed defend Taliban by saying, “If you try and create this impression that the violence [in Afghanistan] is high because of Taliban, again, that would be an exaggeration…”?

By repeating that “We have always said that we have no favourites in Afghanistan,” Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations [DGISPR] too has attempted to sell the false narrative that Pakistan Army has no truck with Taliban.

However, no country facing a humungous financial crisis will ever provide sanctuary and patronage to a violent organisation like Taliban at the cost of losing out on monetary and material aid, in return for nothing. So, Taliban does owe Islamabad a big favour for being allowed to use Pakistani soil for waging war against coalition forces for two decades as well as being absolved of the violence it is perpetrating in Afghanistan and now is the payback time!

Islamabad is trying to play the ‘victim card’ by telling the world that the situation in Afghanistan is “out of Pakistan’s control” and therefore it shouldn’t be blamed for the ongoing orgy of death and destruction there. However, the fact of the matter is that the ‘great game’ currently being played out in Afghanistan has actually been scripted by ISI to preserve Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan, post US withdrawal.

As they say, in today’s evil world, it’s ultimately the bad guys who win!

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