There is speculation in regional media that one reason why the US chose rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan is the hope that it will cause problems for China. There is expectation that a Taliban takeover will inspire anti-China Islamic extremists to launch attacks against it and that will deeply derail Chinese economic plans.
Troubling days ahead are possible. China had expressed concern in May when an explosion killed at least sixty including schoolgirls. China blames the US for the instability there and has said the withdrawal “should be responsible”. China may be worried, says speculations that several extremist groups including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) may gear up particularly in the already unsettled region of Xinjiang region or the Uighur zone.
ETIM is the Uighur militancy’s most active outfit that is seeking independence to establish “East Turkestan.” The UN dubbed this organisation “terrorist” in 2002 but the US has dropped it from its terror list in November 2020 hoping that support and delisting will help it cause more problems for China.
Some analysts think that the US may have “sacrificed” Afghanistan knowing the chances of a Taliban victory are very likely and it will establish an “Islamic regime”. Such regimes will be more militancy friendly in China. That means greater pressure on China which the US hopes will include a negative impact on the BRI. As BRI runs through Xinjiang hence the strategy, its reported. If militancy escalates in the region, supported by a Taliban regime, BRI will not be a happy project to run for China.
What may China face?
Broadly speaking, China is happy its backyard is US-free. But speculations are also on how China will deal with a Taliban regime that may be a uniting force for all Islamists everywhere. And how will it manage the sensitive region which is home to its most prestigious project, BRI. Asia Times reports, “ETIM is among the “foremost” foreign terror groups operating in Afghanistan. ……ETIM is situated mainly in Badakhshan, Kunduz and Takhar provinces and that Abdul Haq (Memet Amin Memet) remains the group’s leader.” About 500 active fighters are involved.
A UN report says that the group is not only focused on China but Pakistan as well as India particularly Kashmir. Lashkar-e-Taiba is its close ally. Meanwhile, China has offered training and resources to Kabul including sending troops to Afghanistan. That may help in greater leverage over militants crossing into China. It has also offered “peace and development“ aid to the Taliban which basically means no support to the Uighurs. Meanwhile, both Kabul and the Taliban are getting ready for the final reckoning type of war.
Turkey is also another player in the game where many Uighurs live. They even allowed a protest by Uighurs when China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Turkey in March 2021.
The US and the West are hoping all this will push China so hard that it will spend all its time defending it against a united army of Islamic terrorists composed of all the groups including IS and Al-Qaeda. This may weaken its grip on the global trade which is what is troubling the West now. But the question is, if so much is at stake for China due to the possibility of a joint Islamist-terrorist alliance that will literally threaten China’s “century”, will it allow that problem to grow that big before striking harder than all others?
What China may do?
If the dire predictions being made by pro-US analysts and their regional allies are true, we are looking at an existential threat to China and the region. That would include both India and Pakistan not to mention Afghanistan. US are banking on the very forces which led to its visit to the region as a military power. Its hoping that Islamic militants will topple China, that is Islamists will do what the US has failed to do; dislodge China from regional overlordship.
If the scenario does emerge, China will certainly go all guns firing for its foes. That could mean a massive war situation including possible invasion of Afghanistan and maybe even Turkey. If the BRI is threatened by militants, it will certainly attack its base in the region and almost certainly at an unprecedented level that may end Kabul supremacy no matter who is in power. Since China has no interest in regional peace, a nuclear option at a last resort is possible. China may exercise that option against allies if all else fails.
The scenario that at least a section of the US is making means inherent risks of regional war not anti-insurgency operations like it has happened in Afghanistan before. Pakistan will naturally tag along and a massive push into Afghanistan is possible too against the Taliban on whom so much US hope is pinned.
US’s main ally in the region –India- will also be affected as Taliban will be involved in Kashmir. It’s now facing a new form of anti-Indian militancy with part time militants that have pushed it to go for some accommodation there. So if China reads the scenario right, its support for insurgency in Kashmir will rise too through Pakistan.
If China sees more trouble in the Af-Pak zone, it may run over Taiwan because it may think it has nothing to lose which will push the US into confrontation, a war none can win. A global war by such calculations seems to be the only option. Is the US ready or not for that and its consequences is what seems to be the question now.
If not, then China will push into Afghanistan and in a way never done by the West or even Russia to cut down the Taliban and do a proxy take over. Kabul is not Beijing and if the US departure was a strategic shift, one certainly hopes it wasn’t expecting the Taliban and by extension the global Islamist extremism to end China’s global power bid. Any threat to China will not spare the US either.