Between two brothers it is brother vs brother.

If the cousin is around.

It is brother plus brother vs the cousin.

If an outsider is around.

It is the brother plus brother plus cousin vs the outsider.

When the outsider is vanquished

It is back to brothers vs the cousin.

When the cousin is vanquished

It back to brother vs brother.

This is a tribal reality


The hasty withdrawal of mighty America in the face of a stunning advance of ragtag Taliban relying on Mao’s  guerrilla tactics gave China a propaganda coup. America was made out to be unreliable, selfish and untrustworthy.  Chinese influence operations ensured that images of Afghans left in the lurch at Kabul airport went viral in Europe and Asia. The general expectation now, is that, China the superpower in waiting, will parachute into the void in Afghanistan, with the help of its (rusted) iron brother Pakistan. For the past five years it  was evident that USA will leave Afghanistan one day and Taliban will have a major role in , the post-USA,  power structure in Afghanistan. China kept investing in the Ghani government and also built ties with Taliban. It covered both bases. China was all set to expand its influence in Central Asia spanning Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics, and Iran – the first step to become a geopolitical superpower. However when the moment has arrived, China seems to be baulking. The fall out of the stunning Taliban military advance seems to have brought China to some semblance of reality. 


The dust has not settled in Afghanistan. Everyone is  waiting and watching. The Taliban has not yet formed a government. There is resistance in Panjshir Valley. There is an ongoing international evacuation from Kabul. One incident can take the clock back. Everyone wants to save the skins of their nationals and are presently not interested in  Afghan or Taliban welfare. Various factions in the Taliban are jockeying for power in the emerging structure. Negotiations are out to form an inclusive government since a pure Taliban government might not get  diplomatic recognition or economic cum infrastructure assistance. The coffers are bone dry. A government  can’t run on narcotic money or illegal taxes or mining or smuggling. A food shortage is on the horizon. Countries are grappling with a refugee problem. A humanitarian crisis is on the cards. 


Pakistan the main puppeteer cum interlocutor in Afghan affairs is going through pangs of its own. It is gearing up for the international backlash while being busy playing the self-appointed Afghan kingmaker cum grave digger. However, it is also gearing up for a refugee influx and an unstable Durand Line. The Pashtun and Baloch issues are flaring up with targeted bomb blasts, IED attacks and ambushes. The targets being the Pakistani Army and Chinese personnel. LeT, TTP and JeM have already paid obeisance to the Taliban. Every radical in Pakistan from Taliban Khan downwards are ‘radically’ excited about the Taliban victory. Amidst this, the Pakistan economy is steadily progressing southwards while being in the FATF Gray List. The country is facing an increasing water shortage which is likely to have serious repercussions. Pakistan, is getting to be more unstable itself. The targeting of Chinese and CPEC projects have prompted China to put out a stern warning cum advisory to the Pakistani authorities to take serious steps in the face of severe threats. Pakistan seems to be  fancying itself as the lynchpin in the new Pakistan- China- Russia- Iran – Afghanistan nexus which it is trying to form. Pakistan, the perpetual ‘frontline state’ in perpetual ‘failure’ is steadily witnessing increasing instability. The overall situation seems to be dirty. China is off loading the dirty work in Afghanistan to a dirty Pakistan. If nothing, Pakistan will deliver dirt to China which is facing some major issues internally. Till then they can do the Chanda hai tu routine….  


China is facing up to the reality that its demography is declining irreversibly. This also heralds an economic decline due to an increasingly aging population, reduced work force, costlier labour, reduced births and reduced consumption. Due to social and inequity issues, China is torpedoing its tech industry and wealth creators. Jobs are getting scarcer. The Delta variant of its Virus is spreading fast. Herd immunity in China is over the horizon due to poor vaccines. Their zero-covid approach means Chinese cannot exit its mass testing, tracing, quarantine and lockdown bubble routine. Overall , this will hit their economy. China is moving from an era of aided growth to being an unaided and opposed economy.  Even without all this, the Chinese economy was slowing down. Stock markets are bleeding due to weak Chinese economic data, fears of a resurgent coronavirus and the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan. Amidst all this XI Jinping wants to stay in power for life. He has to do a lot more if he wants to get into the bed alongside Mao in a mausoleum in posterity. One misstep will consign him too the dustbin of Chinese history. It places severe restrictions on China’s ability to take risks. These conditions, as they evolve must be kept in mind when we assess Chinese forays into Afghanistan and their mega plans. A lot of it is hype


The Afghanistan fallout on China has to be viewed from two perspectives – internal to the emerging China – Afghanistan- Pakistan equation and external in the larger geopolitical context. Externally,  USA’s hasty exit from Afghanistan is not good news for China. It  frees US resources, troops, and finances to focus on China. China is left with   a terror breeding vacuum. The withdrawal also consolidates US influence and enhances its ability to defend Taiwan and influence South East Asia. When President Joe Biden says ‘Our true strategic competitors, China and Russia, would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely’it also implies that USA will hereafter focus more on China. That play has already started with the visit of the US  Vice President to South East Asia.  On the other hand, China has to commit and confront USA with greater resources. In Afghanistan, the free security blanket of USA has vanished. China will have to deploy its own security for any foray. China is getting stretched as USA consolidates. This role reversal is advantage USA and disadvantage China. 



Everyone talks of a pot of gold (minerals ) waiting for China at the end of the Afghanistan rainbow. What are the facts? In the 1990s, USA was gung-ho on Afghanistan oil and gas pipelines by Unocal. These pipelines were to go through the CARs, Afghanistan and Pakistan onwards to India. They never materialised. More importantly it was the US Geological Survey which came out with a report indicating huge Lithium  and rare earth deposits in Afghanistan. An internal U.S Department of Défense memo in 2010 reportedly described Afghanistan as the Saudi Arabia of lithium. All the minerals in Afghanistan were for USAs taking for two decades. USA could have  mined and extracted everything to offset the cost incurred by it and ploughed back to subside the Afghan economy. Yet USA did not do anything. Why?  Did they allow it for China to come and exploit all resources, extend its BRI and displace USA as the prime global?  That is so facile. Now the general expectation is that  China will exploit all these minerals.  What is the ground  reality?  A consortium led by China Metallurgical Group Corp. bid $3 billion to develop one of the world’s largest copper deposits at Mes Aynak, promising also to build a power plant, railway and other infrastructure. More than a decade later work has yet to start and locals are in the lurch. China could not operationalise the mine when USA was proving a security blanket. Now everyone feels that China will be able to exploit everything in a jiffy  when it has to provide its own security. How idiotic! Incidentally, China also attempted to drill oil in the Amu Darya basin. That fell through due to issues with both Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Experts sum up that Chinese efforts are big plans with little  action laced with unrealistic promises. Exploitation of minerals from Afghanistan will not see the light of the day in this decade.  My estimate is two decades! Till then the brothers and cousins of Taliban will kill the outsider. Happiness. This is a pie in the sky story if ever there was one. it will take a Santa Claus to deliver it.    



The Chinese are most worried about  instability spilling  over from Afghanistan into Xinjiang. It could also seep  deeper into China to areas inhabited by  other Muslims. They are worried about inspiration from Islamic militarism firing up Chinese Muslims in the hinterland. CCP desperately wants  to prevent the resurgence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Xinjiang. The CCP is dealing with  the Afghan Taliban so that ETIM can be curbed. Any flareup in Xinjiang compromises the core interest of China – One China. China is  also cosying up to Taliban so that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not compromised. China will do this along with Pakistan in the forefront to do the dirty work. It will provide all carrots. Pakistan and China will also like to see that TTP, ETIM and Baloch rebels do not get sanctuaries in Taliban areas. At the same time they will expect Taliban to support the LeT and JeM to sort out India. However in this cauldron, ISIS and Al  Qaeda are loose cannons! Overall, the Good Taliban and the Bad Taliban tricks will come into play. The US  presence in Afghanistan was also a free security bulwark against fundamentalist activity spilling across the Wakhan Corridor. That has  now gone, and China has to do its own weightlifting to prevent this outflow from a chaotic Afghanistan. The bottom line for China is Afghanistan must never again become a heaven for terrorists. This bottom line is fundamentally flawed since its bosom brother Pakistan is the prime sponsor and creator of terror. The future as per my thinking is that Chinese vulnerabilities are just being exposed for India to drive home advantages.  

Many feel that China will soon recognize the Taliban regime and become fully involved in Afghanistan in a Jhappi – Pappi routine. Things are clearly more complicated. Everything depends on whether Afghanistan’s future is peaceful. Even if the brothers and cousins make it peaceful,  there are other issues. The Taliban and China are incongruent. Taliban’s  religion-based philosophy is exactly the antithesis of Chinese atheism under CCP where social stability and economic development are prime. In Pakistan, China could make the compromise due to the presence of the Pakistani Army which is a strong integrator. On the other hand,  the Taliban is full of tribal factions and has to compete with the incipient resistance, warlords when  they reappear, and  other  radical groups – ISIS and Al Qaeda. Their own stability is uncertain. Further, Taliban cannot be taken for granted or on its word.  Equally China, also has demonstrated unkept promises in Afghanistan.  Add Pakistan into the mix. It is a ‘ringa ringa roses’ dance of the untrustworthy. Everyone seems to be in for the elusive loot. Very importantly, China has been on the side lines in Afghanistan with no leverage for influencing Taliban. In fact Pakistan and Iran have more influence on Taliban. The only regional grouping is SCO where it can team up with Russia to influence issues. However they will come up short with India in the SCO. One has also to be conscious that China has never mediated to settle political disputes in other countries or has ever taken in refugees. It has a zero refugee policy. Its people to people connect has been notoriously poor. That is obvious in Pakistan where the man on the ground does not like Chinese. Very importantly, Afghanistan under Taliban has to still depend upon the West and USA for funds. Chinese have not come up with an alternative financial plan. Even if they do, Afghanistan and Taliban will only become another area of contention between USA and China. China does not have a free run.


China is also fully conscious that  Afghanistan is ‘a graveyard of empires’. It will not get sucked into Afghanistan in a hurry. The vision that it will turn Afghanistan into a garden of Eden is wishful thinking.  Its security role and economic engagement will be calibrated. China will deal with any side as long as that side meets China’s interests. It will judge if the Taliban will can gain international legitimacy. Simultaneously, it will interact with Taliban pragmatically. China has stated that it  is ‘ready to develop good-neighbourliness and friendly cooperation’  with Afghanistan.  China is aware that the Afghanistan situation is still complex. Terror seepage into China cannot be wished away.  It will take time before it commits itself in development projects. Development projects need security. That means boots on ground! The option is to outsource it to Pakistan, which is proving to be incapable of providing security even with its own country.  Overall, will China commit? Superpowers have to take that risk. The acid test is ahead. It is fine to project an image and a narrative of American decline. Chinese propaganda can  exploit American failure. However that is not China’s success either!


Finally. Everyone says that  Afghanistan is the graveyard of Empires. What is generally missing from this fable is that major powers, through centuries, have approached this land of vibrant people as if it is a  graveyard. Accordingly it has behaved like one to bury the powers that be. It could never have been developed into recreation gardens or development parks due to the attitude of the outsiders. Afghanistan awaits the next one. That is the tragic history. Is it not?  



2 responses to “THE AFGHANISTAN FALLOUT ON CHINA By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Very interesting read. My compliments

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