Current Affairs

Can China, Pakistan, and India cooperate in Afghanistan?

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    World Affairs
  • Published
    28th May, 2021
  • Context

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing supports the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and stands ready to play a role in promoting future "stability and development."

  • Background

    • The United States and the Taliban signed a historic agreement on 29 February 2020, putting an end to the longest-running conflict in American
    • Consequently, President Biden announced the decisionto withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021.
    • On 16 May 2021, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, called this withdrawal “hasty”, since this has severely affected the peace process and regional stability.
      • Additionally, he called on the United Nations (UN) to play its due role and also urged the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to pay more attention to the situation.
      • Yi also had a telephonic conversation with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on the 15th of May regarding the US withdrawal.
      • Yi reiterated the all-weather ties that Pakistan and China have had in the past 70 years when it comes to each other’s core interests.

    The country profile

    • Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is the 37th most populous country in the world.
    • The landlocked country has an area of 652,230 sq km.
    • It has six bordering countries that include Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, and China.
  • Analysis

    How China, Pakistan, India reacted to the withdrawal?

    • China and India have been unwelcoming of this withdrawal, and contrastingly, Pakistan has supported the principle of responsible troop withdrawal.
    • However, all three states have unequivocally welcomedthe Afghan peace negotiations that underpin the desideratum of a negotiated political settlement and power-sharing.
    • It is this shared desire for a stable Afghanistan which could sustain a possibility, albeit a faint one, of China–Pakistan–India trilateral cooperation.
  • How China previously participated in Afghanistan?

    • Historically, China has regarded Afghanistan as a neighbour wielding little diplomatic significance.
    • In 1950 the then Kingdom of Afghanistan was one of the first countries to recognise the Communist regime of Mao Zedong, and five years later established diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
    • However, up until 2001, political and economic cooperation between the two countries remained inconsequential.
    • It was only after the establishment of the provisional government led by President Hamid Karzai in 2001, that bilateral relations between China and Afghanistan began to grow.
  • Why is China so actively concerned about the withdrawal?

    • China is actively concerned about the withdrawal when China itself had termedAmerican presence a “distortion of Afghan politics” and the cause for instability in China’s backyard.
    • The abrupt departure of US troops despite the lack of prospects for a sustainable political settlement raises questions regarding stability, not just within Afghanistan but in the region as a whole.
    • Regional neighbours like Pakistan and China could face far-reaching consequences in the form of grave security threats as well as economic challenges.
    • Owing to their long-term alliance, China and Pakistan could be expected to continue their strategic coordination and exert a substantial influence on the prevalence of stability in Afghanistan.
    • However, the withdrawal’s grave repercussions are likely to be felt by India too, in terms of security on the Northern frontier, and also vìs-a-vìsthe enormous investments in Afghanistan.
    • Thus, while the precedents would suggest that it is unlikely, post-US Afghanistan could give rise to the paltry possibility of cooperation between India, China, and Pakistan.
  • Ramifications of the withdrawal


    • Threat to Chinese security: The withdrawal could potentially mean that Afghanistan could become an unhindered, safe haven for Uyghur militants, exacerbating China’s security concerns.
    • Diversion from important areas of focus: Furthermore, it would divert resources and attention from other areas of focus such as the South China Sea and the border conflict with India.


    • Burden bearer: A US withdrawal, paired with China and India’s unwillingness to intervene in Afghanistan unilaterally, could mean that Pakistan might bear the entire burden of the impending chaosin Afghanistan.
    • Refugee crisis: Without an acceptable political settlement, the prospect of a civil war among these factions looms large. This could potentially precipitate a refugee crisis that could spill over to an economically floundering Pakistan.
    • Herculean security challenge: Another major concernis that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan could galvanise Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, including an already renascent Pakistan-Taliban, which could become a herculean security challenge for Islamabad.
      • Additionally, Pakistan’s tribal belt, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where militancy and demands for self-determination have been persistent, lie near the Afghan border.
    • Aggravating the security situation: Any instability in Afghanistan could certainly spill over to these areas and aggravate the pre-existing security situation in Pakistan.


    • Threat to security: Failure to attain a political settlement would allow Pakistan to fall back on its most trusted proxies in the region, the Taliban. Pakistan might not hesitateto provide the Afghan Taliban with vital support against India, and this could directly challenge India’s security interests.
    • Fearful reach to Kashmir: An accentuated role for the Taliban in Afghan politics and the Islamism that it would foster across the region spillingover to Kashmir would be India’s biggest security threat.
    • Insecurities at border: Coupled with the current COVID-19 pandemic that is still ravaging the country, domestic political challenges and the prolonged border disputes with China, India can ill-afford these security imbroglios in the North.
  • What are major Chinese contributions in Afghanistan?

    • China’s contribution to Afghanistan has largely been in the domain of pledging increasing amounts of development aid, setting up large-scale investment projects, and more recently, in backing the peace efforts pioneered by the US Special Representative for Afghan Reconstruction Zalmay Khalilzad.
    • Today China is the biggest foreign investor in Afghanistan.
    • China has also established the Sino-Afghanistan Special Railway Transportation Projectand the Five Nations Railway Project connecting China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
  • Why Afghanistan assumes significance for China?

    • Strategic location: Afghanistan lies at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia, and its geographically strategic location gives it a competitive advantage over others, in terms of being a regional hub for trade and transit.
    • Significant linkage: It has immense potential to link the markets of South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and China, and leverage its central position to drive development and economic growth at home.
    • Natural resource repository: Afghanistan is also home to a vast natural resource repository, from rare earth elements to copper deposits, iron ore, gold, lithium and more.
  • The road ahead

    While India, China, and Pakistan are the fiercest regional neighbours, they are deeply bound by the imminent perils of formidable security and economic challenges of the post-US Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the various roadblocks that lie ahead regarding cooperation, it is in their best interests to help nurture peace and order in Afghanistan.