By Dost Muhammad Barrech

Afghanistan in the shackles of great power rivalry

October 2, 2021 - 20:42

The recapturing of Afghanistan by the Taliban on August 15, 2021, the aftermath of the U.S. irresponsible and tumultuous withdrawal, has triggered an engrossing debate among the experts. Some experts regard the withdrawal as a defeat and humiliation of the U.S., while others conceive it as a calculated and crafted move by the U.S.

To bear in mind, the U.S. statecrafts are in the habit of overstating their defeats. The U.S. defeat in Vietnam during the Cold War was exceedingly exaggerated, but the Cold War culminated in the disintegration of the USSR, and the U.S. emerged as a sole power. Great powers remain clear in their objectives. Conceiving the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan somewhat requires a reassessment. 

The U.S., in the containment of rising power China, is believed to have reassessed the policy. According to Robert Kaplan, the U.S. was supposed to spend U.S.43$ billion in Afghanistan annually. By assessing the U.S. hasty withdrawal, it can be argued that Washington, by saving U.S.43$ billion in Afghanistan tends to spend the same whopping amount that used to be squandered in Afghanistan now going to be spent in the Indo-Pacific where the imminent threat of China has been threatening the U.S. core interest. 

A recent security pact called the AUKUS signed between Australia, UK and the U.S. is a lucid manifestation of the U.S. shift in policy from Afghanistan to Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific. The AUKUS allows sharing of intelligence, giving Australia secret technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. Building nuclear-powered submarines to counter China would, by and large, trigger a new cold war in the Asia-Pacific. The warmongering policies of the U.S. also buttress its military-industrial complex. Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft's Anatol Lieven argues that a New Cold War "with China … will continue to lock in place the power of the U.S. military-industrial complex and squander trillions more on wasteful and unnecessary military programs designed to benefit American corporations rather than defend the actual security of actual American citizens."

The U.S. remains engaged in orchestrating troubles for China in its peripheries. The U.S., as a part of its Department of Defense's global posture review in East Asia, has been preparing to accelerate its military posture deepening ties with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. An increasing foothold of the Quad known as Quadrilateral Security Dialogue composed of the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, in the Indo-Pacific is also a bulwark against China. The Indian embroilment in rising tensions with China further serves the U.S. interest. After the U.S. withdrawal once again in China's periphery, a turbulent Afghanistan to China's west is a foreseeable dilemma the latter has to withstand. Making matters worse, Islamic State Khorasan, designated IS-K, has warned attacking China.

The threat of IS-K to China evokes us Michel Chossudovsky, who in his classic book "The Globalization of War: America's "Long War" against Humanity" claims that the concept of peace is being undermined by the U.S. and war has become peace. Chossudovsky, in his book, accuses the U.S. of creating Al-Qaeda and IS aimed at presenting a long war across the globe. To him, the U.S. requires ideological justification and pretext of waging a war against the groups being created by it. The emerging of Al-Qaeda and IS in Afghanistan after the U.S. presence for 20 years is the reality one ought to ponder over it. 

Arguably, the aforementioned groups in Afghanistan under the shadow of the mighty U.S. appear to be creating instability in Afghanistan; the country is likely to become an epicenter of terrorism and extremism, posing a grave threat to the region in general China in particular. Admittedly, coping with terrorism and extremism so far has proved as an Achilles heel of China. The U.S., in Chossudovsky's lexicon, is the mastermind of creating non-state actors. China, in this regard, is unskillful due to ideological differences, with militants reluctant to follow the trajectory of the U.S. to create non-state actors. Beijing certainly is extra vigilant in coping with imminent threats emanating from Afghanistan. China's top Afghanistan expert, Zhao Huasheng opines that "To a great extent, Xinjiang's security and stability is the starting point for China's Afghanistan policy."

It is believed that The U.S. has reassessed the containment policy of rising China. 

Tim Marshal, in his fascinating book "Prisoners of Geography," maintains that Xinjiang is the largest province of China, having an area of 642,820 twice the size of Texas, and one can also fit the UK, Germany, France, Austria, Netherlands, and Switzerland and Belgium in the Xinjiang. Above all, Xinjiang connects China with eight countries Russia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The UN Security Council assessment claims that East Turkestan Islamic Movement ETIM militants fighting for Xinjiang independence have worked with jihadi organizations, like al Qaeda Jamaat al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad and Jamaat Ansarullah.

Alarmingly, these groups will likely remain active in Afghanistan, providing ETIM with multiple local allies.

Doha agreement paving the way for appeasement and releasing Taliban, bypassing the U.S. strategically India in the agreement, the irresponsible U.S. exit, and the abrupt takeover of Kabul are some unimaginable stories to believe. Then expecting hardcore Taliban to live up to the commitments of not violating human rights are beyond one's comprehension. Though the Taliban pledged that they would not violate human rights, the U.S. ought to inculcate that promise is like an ice ball easy to make difficult to keep. The U.S. also did not live up to the promises; it invaded Afghanistan with the hope of installing democracy and rebuilding a country. 

Today neither there is democracy nor the rebuilding of the country fairly. Afghanistan heads towards further chaos and destruction; the country, ironically is becoming a hub of terrorism and extremism. A stable Afghanistan in China's periphery serves Beijing's interest; an unstable Afghanistan is likely to serve the U.S. objectives. The U.S. hasty withdrawal, in the final analysis definitely, is a part of great power rivalry in which Washington tends to entangle Beijing in militancy that invariably would enfeeble China economically and politically.

The writer is a Research Associate at India Study Center, the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). He is also Ph.D. (IR) candidate at International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI).

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