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Opinions of Sunday, 26 September 2021

Columnist: Molefi Asante

How the world’s 2nd largest economy is caught in Taliban quagmire

China was happy to see the US troops desperately withdrawing from Afghanistan China was happy to see the US troops desperately withdrawing from Afghanistan

In mid-August, as the world watched in horror the scenes of last US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, followed by chaos in Kabul, its two neighbours shamefully basked in the glory of a perceived triumph.

China was happy to see the US troops desperately withdrawing from Afghanistan leaving another territory for China to plunder for resources, even though it meant compromising on political ethics by supporting a ruthless Taliban back to power. Pakistan on the other hand had a lot to achieve by wrestling back its influence over the country.

The plot behind Pak China axis in Afghanistan was to fill in the vacuum left over by the US by supporting a regime that the rest of the world will find difficult to deal with, as the rest of the world would depend on Pakistan to deal with new Afghan regime, whose leadership it has harboured during the past two decades, as they escaped US wrath post-September 11 from the mountains of Tora Bora into the Pashtun territory within Pakistan. The Pakistan influence over the Taliban meant that its all-weather ally China will get exclusive access to Afghanistan resources. The plot is a win-win situation in many ways for the two all-weather allies.

However, there seems to be a twist in the plot. While China and Pakistan have maintained an alliance on the principles of traditional friendship between two solemn nations, their partner in the axis is a militant organization founded on the principles of jihad, which gives more priority to fellow Islamic militant organizations than multilateral agreements.

The roadblocks in an otherwise smooth drive in new roads of ‘Pak China Initiative’ are beginning to appear.

In less than a month of the Taliban takeover, China claimed that ETIM militants were given safe passage by Afghanistan Taliban, irking Chinese security experts.

And now the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan has warned that it may continue its attacks in Pakistan and cause damage to China's projects and personnel in the country.

In an exclusive interview with Japanese media outlet Mainichi Shimbun, TTP leader Mufti Wali Noor Mehsud welcomed the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan.

The resurgence of the Taliban indicates that TTP will try to garner support from the Afghan Taliban, and this may complicate matters for China and Pakistan as some elements in Afghan Taliban leadership are known to have sympathy towards the TTP.

As the Afghan Taliban gain their foothold in the region, some Chinese experts are increasingly getting concerned. They fear that there may be unforeseen for Pakistan: first, the victory for Taliban in Afghanistan will reinvigorate the TTP in Pakistan; and second, renewed nationalism among Pashtuns may brew another territorial claim in future.

A stronger TTP may carry out more militant strike against Chinese projects in Pakistan. This threat was resonated in the interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, when Mehsud warned the Chinese government and its people "not to be influenced by Pakistan's conspiracies and deception, and to avoid initiating a war against the TTP."

Nine Chinese nationals were killed in a shuttle bus explosion in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on July 14 on their way to the China-backed Dasu hydropower project. But the TTP later denied responsibility for the Dasu attack.

With calculations going awry, China is putting pressure on the Pakistan government to strengthen security measures and ensure the safety of projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Several Chinese entrepreneurs expressed deep concerns related to their operations in Pakistan in a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan on September 14. The meeting was demanded by leaders of Chinese entrepreneurs aimed at addressing Chinese firms' concerns regarding security after recent terrorist attacks.

China's baby steps to replace American boots seems to have caught in Pakistan Taliban quagmire.