New Delhi: In a quid pro quo of sorts, China is trying to persuade the Afghan Taliban to provide greater security to Chinese nationals in Afghanistan by providing modern weaponry to the hardline Islamist regime in Kabul.
The move threatens to undermine peace and geopolitical stability in the region amid an unstable economic and security situation in Pakistan and chronic violence in Afghanistan.
China is the latest nation with global power ambitions to enter the ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan, a ‘game’ in which major empires and military superpowers have burnt their fingers in the past.
According to Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai, author of The Troubled Triangle: US-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban’s Shadow in The Jamestown Foundation, China is providing modern weapons and military equipment to the Afghan Taliban following a spate of attacks on Chinese nationals in Afghanistan in recent times.
The latest of these attacks was a major assault on a hotel in Kabul that mostly housed Chinese nationals and a blast outside Afghanistan’s foreign ministry while Taliban officials were engaged with a meeting with their counterparts from China.
Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), a terrorist group that has emerged as a major rival for the Taliban inside Afghanistan.
These attacks have come as a threat to the stability of Afghanistan and have increased security fears for Chinese interests and projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the volatile region.
According to China’s official mouthpiece the ‘Global Times’, Chinese officials have expressed concern over uncertainty and unrest in Afghanistan and have voiced fears that some of the plethora of terrorist groups in the country may target Xinjiang – a mountainous, Muslim majority province in western China.
Chinese officials also fear for the security of projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which have faced several attacks in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in Pakistan.
Both these provinces are adjacent to Afghanistan and officials in Pakistan have alleged that Baloch groups fighting for the freedom of Balochistan and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operate from bases across the Durand Line with the active co-operation of the Afghan Taliban.
According to Xinhua news agency, China’s foreign minister Qin Gang has urged Amir Khan Muttaqi – his counterpart in Kabul’s Taliban regime – to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens in Afghanistan.
Muttaqi has reportedly assured Qin Gang that the Afghan Taliban prohibits any forces from using Afghanistan’s territory to sabotage China’s interests in the region.
“The country will resolutely combat all forms of terrorism and take strong measures to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel and institutions in Afghanistan,” the Taliban leader was quoted as saying by ANI.
In order to combat the challenges being faced by Chinese interests in the region, China has sought to arm the Taliban with modern weapons, ostensibly to help the Islamist rulers of Afghanistan to combat terrorism and extremism.
According to ‘The Jamestown Foundation’, China is secretly providing Afghanistan’s Taliban government with military and humanitarian assistance.
One such assistance is China’s provision of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to the Taliban, which has significantly boosted the combat capabilities of the Afghanistan’s Islamist rulers.
The first drone was attained through a front company from China and cost USD 60,000, which engineers tailored to carry four mortar rounds, reported New Lines Magazine on September 15, 2021.
However, the drone unit still uses modified commercial drones for surveillance and operations. In order to upgrade its UAV capabilities, the Taliban have struck a deal with China to purchase Blowfish attack drones.
The Blowfish strengthens the Taliban’s combat capability in operations against its opponents, especially ISKP. It will also put considerable pressure on other resistance movements, including the National Resistance Front in the Panjshir Valley.
China’s reported delivery of combat drones to the Taliban is expected to make a considerable impact US-China relations apart from increasing the Afgan Taliban’s capability to target the ISKP and other rivals in the region.
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