Taliban 1

Taliban advances in Afghanistan shift the Central Asian playing field on which China, India and the United States compete with rival infrastructure-driven approaches. At first glance, a Taliban takeover of Kabul would give China a 2:0 advantage against the US and India, but that could prove to be a shaky head start.

The potential fall of the US-backed Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani will shelve if not kill Indian support for the Iranian port of Chabahar that was intended to facilitate Indian trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Chabahar was also viewed by India as a counterweight to the Chinese-supported Pakistani port of Gwadar, a crown jewel of the People’s Republic’s transportation, telecommunications and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The United States facilitated Indian investment in Chabahar by exempting the port from harsh US sanctions against Iran. The exemption was intended to “support the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.”

However, with negotiations with Iran about a revival of the 2015 international nuclear agreement stalled, the United States announced in July together with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan plans to create a platform that would foster regional trade, business ties and connectivity.

The connectivity end of the plan resembled an effort to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. It would have circumvented Iran and weakened Chabahar but potentially strengthened China’s Gwadar alongside the port of Karachi.

That has become a moot point with the plans certain to be shelved as the Taliban move to take over Kabul and form a government that would be denied recognition by at least the democratic parts of the international community.

Like other Afghan neighbors, neither Pakistan nor Uzbekistan or for that matter China are likely to join a boycott of the Taliban. On the contrary, China last month made a point of giving a visiting Taliban delegation a warm welcome.

Recognition by Iran, Central Asian states and China of a Taliban government is however unlikely to be enough to salvage the Chabahar project. “Changed circumstances and alternative connectivity routes are being conjured up by other countries to make Chabahar irrelevant,” an Iranian source told Hard News and The Wire.

The Taliban have sought to reassure China, Iran, Uzbekistan and other Afghan neighbors that they will not allow Afghanistan to become an operational base for jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda and Uighur militants of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP).

The Taliban have positioned themselves as solely concerned with creating an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan and having no inclination to operate beyond the borders of the Central Asian state, but have been consistent in their refusal to expel Al Qaeda, even if the group is a shadow of what it was when it launched the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington 20 years ago.

The TIP has occasionally issued videos documenting its presence in Afghanistan but has, by and large, kept a low profile in the country and refrained from attacking Chinese targets in Afghanistan or across the border in Xinjiang, the north-western Chinese province in which authorities have brutally cracked down on ethnic Turkic Uighurs.

As a result, the Taliban reassurance was insufficient to stop China from repeatedly advising its citizens to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.

“Currently, the security situation in Afghanistan has further deteriorated … If Chinese citizens insist on staying in Afghanistan, they will face extremely high-security risks, and all the consequences will be borne by themselves,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.

The fallout of the Taliban’s sweep across Afghanistan, despite the group’s assurances, is likely to affect China beyond Afghan borders, perhaps no more so than in Pakistan, a major focus of the People’s Republic’s single largest Belt-and Road-related investment.

The investment has made China a target for attacks by militants primarily Baloch nationalists. However, the killing in July of nine Chinese nationals in an explosion on a bus transporting Chinese workers to the construction site of a dam in the northern mountains of Pakistan, a region more prone to attacks by religious militants, raises the specter of jihadists also targeting China. It was the highest loss of life of Chinese citizens in recent years in Pakistan.

The attack occurred amid fears that the Taliban will bolster ultra-conservative religious sentiment in Pakistan that celebrates the group as heroes whose success enhances the chances for austere religious rule in the world’s second-most populous Muslim-majority state.

“Our jihadis will be emboldened. They will say that ‘if America can be beaten, what is the Pakistan army to stand in our way?’” said a senior Pakistani official.

Indicating Chinese concern, China has delayed the signing of a framework agreement on industrial cooperation that would have accelerated the implementation of projects that are part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Said scholar Kamran Bokhari: “Regime change is a terribly messy process. Weak regimes can be toppled; replacing them is the hard part. It is only a matter of time before the Afghan state collapses, unleashing chaos that will spill beyond its borders. All of Afghanistan’s neighbors will be affected to varying degrees, but Pakistan and China have the most to lose.”

The demise of Chabahar and/or the targeting by the Taliban of Hazara Shiites in Afghanistan could potentially turn Iran into a significant loser too.

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud,ItunesSpotifyStitcherTuneInSpreakerPocket CastsTumblr, Podbean,Audecibel, Patreon and Castbox.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and a senior fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute


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One Comment

  1. samir sardana says:

    THE TALIBAN HAVE DESTROYED THE INDIAN CHABAHAR PROJECT IN IRAN AND THE FANTASY DREAMS OF THE INDIAN LOGISTICAL CORRIDOR TO CENTRAL ASIA

    INDIA IS A BANANA REPUBLIC,run by a dishwasher’s son,which is being used like a puppet and guinea pig,by the USA.The GOI could not protect their assets in Afghan and Iran – will these weasels stand up to PRC ?

    Taliban has doomed Chabahar and will use the Indian Roads to choke Kabul,get supplies and earn valuable toll revenue – via Zaranj,as a 1st point.What has India Built the infra for ? For PRC to evacuate the rare earths and minerals from Afghanistan ? The Afghans are seeking Indian help – but the weasels are still not send their Airforce,let alone send the army !

    The Indian weasels did the same with Najibullah – they let him be killed !

    On top of that,the PRC aid to Iran has completely destroyed Chabahar – as Indian aid is not required any more! What were the Indian weasels thinking ?

    The Indian weasels were played by Iran and the US.1st he Iranians signed the MOU with the Indian weasels – and the US gave the nod for the 2 berths at Shahid Besheti.The Indian fools thought that the Indian diplonats had conned the US ! Then the Indians were played by the Iranians,to sign the MOU for the Rail link to Zahadan – and again the US appeared to blink. Then again the Indian Duds signed a MOU,for the Chabharf SEZ.

    Iranians know that Indians are weasels and lapdogs of the US – who stopped the Oil imports, did not condemn the assassination of Qasim and the Mossad killings of Iranian N-Scientists in Iran ! They know the worth of the Indians ! Still they signed the MOUs !

    Y ?

    The Iranians KNEW that the Indian weasels will NOT build the rail line or start the SEZ – due to US sanctions ! WHICH FOOL WILL START A UNIT IN CHABHAR SEZ,IF THE US IMPOSES SANCTIONS ON THAT CORPORATE – EXCEPT CHAIWALA OF INDIA ?

    It was to get a lever to PRC to INVEST in IRAN ! The aim was to get the US + INDIA sanction, for Chabhar,and then use that as a warning bell to PRC,to get them to invest.THE IRANIAN PLAN TO USE THE PRC was ONLY TO KILL CHABHAR,as it was THREAT TO GWADAR,and it was an Indian INT listening post on Gwadar. and Balochistan dindooohindoo

    PRC is the natural ally of Iran – and with Bandar Abbas,in the Persian Gulf (and a UAE dispute), access to Iranian Ports for PRC,is the perfect hedge to Gwadar,and also,to optimise the costs of the North-South and Central Asian Corridors.Iran also needs to sell Oil in Yuan, with banking facilities from PRC – so that several nations in the world – can buy Iranian Oil and settle payments in Yuan and LCs.USD is the Achilles heel of Iran.

    Similarly,the Iranians sought equipments from India,for the 2 berths in Chabhar – which Iran cannot import,as they are expensive, and Iran has no USD,and no banker in US/EU will accept Iranian Bank LCs.So they wanted the Indian Duds,to buy the equipments and give the USD loans to Iranians,to buy the equipemnts !

    THE BEAUTY IS THAT THE 1O YEAR LEASE OF THE 2 BERTHS IN CHABAHAR TO INDIA, IS COMING TO AN END AND IRAN WILL GET ALL THE INDIAN INVESTMENTS FREE OF COST !

    The Iranians knew from Day 1 that Chabahar was doomed ! They used the stupid Indian Diplomats to con the US – albeit in the short term.CHAIWALA thought that he could sleep with Netanyahu,and still cut deals with the Persian Shias – this is the DNA of sons of dishwashers, surrounded by fools and sycophants ! Imagine the Utopian paradise in which the Chaiwala and his mandarin monkeys reside !

    The US could have said NO on Day 1 – but they did NOT ! dindooohindoo

    Y ?

    They wanted to show the Indian duds their place ! Just like Blinken came to India – and for the 1st time in decades,a US SOS excoriated the CHAIWALA’s record,on HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH – IN DELHI ! AND THEN HE GENTLY REMINDED THE INDIAN LAPDOGS – TO FALL IN LINE,AS FAR THE ANTI-CHINA COALITION GOES !

    NET RESULT – INDIANS ARE DOOMED IN PERSIA,AFGHANISTAN,LANKA ,MYANMAR AND PAKISTAN.THE ONLY NATION LEFT IS BANGLADESH !

    JUST LIKE THE INDIANS INVESTED MONEY TO EXPLORE A GAS FIELD IN the IRAN ,AND THEN IRAN KICKED OUT ONGC (AFTER HITTING THE GAS JACKPOT) !

    PEOPLE SAY Y ? Y ARE THESE INDIANS FOOLS– BUT STILL SUPREMELY CONFIDENT OF THEIR DIVINITY ?

    I present the words of Al Beruni

    The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid.