The Uncertain Prospects of China in Afghanistan

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Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan more than a year ago, the nation now faces a new terrorist threat that makes China’s commitment to the area riskier and more challenging. The Islamic State (I.S.) has suffered a worldwide decline since being defeated on its territory in 2019, yet it still thrives in Afghanistan. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), according to a recent U.N. assessment on the danger presented by the organization, has successfully established itself as “the major adversary” to the Taliban. The organization still assaults Afghanistan once a month, but its bombs now have a more significant effect than before. It has carried out many strikes over the previous few months, hurting scores of people, including a suicide bombing at Kabul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January that caused more than 50 lives.

In the first months after the takeover, one might discount such assaults and give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt since they were attempting to solidify their hold on power. Yet it is now painfully evident that the Taliban lack the ability to maintain security in locations like Kabul. Taliban’s security measures are failing miserably, as seen by ISKP’s growing ability to launch significant strikes on targets like the Foreign Ministry or the Kabul Longan Hotel in December 2022. This is despite numerous, consistent reports that, over the last year, they have destroyed ISKP hideouts nationwide.

A more worrying trend is that ISKP is now attempting to create a barrier between the Taliban and nations generally supportive of Kabul’s new government. ISKP initiatives to attack diplomatic posts, such as the Russian and Pakistani embassies in September and December 2022, respectively, have been the main examples. China, which has developed a particularly tight relationship with the Taliban administration, is a specific target for ISKP’s aggressive campaign.

With US leave, Taliban may well see China as a possible source of financial investment. By implying Beijing intends to extend its commitment not just economically but also in the area of security, China has sometimes fueled the expectations of the Taliban.

China has been a focus of Islamic State propaganda for a number of years. One of I.S.’s songs, which urged Chinese Muslims to join its ranks, was published in Mandarin in 2015. The United Nations and various media outlets reported last year that the ethnic Uyghur bomber who targeted a Shia mosque in Kunduz in October 2021 was from Xinjiang.

Recently, China has been the focus of ISKP’s internet propaganda. The organization recently identified attacking Chinese, American, and Russian interests as one of its primary goals, along with freeing Uyghurs. The organization assaulted a hotel in Kabul’s center that was popular with Chinese visitors in December 2022, injuring at least five.

It is plausible to conclude that ISKP’s increasing emphasis on its campaign against China resulted from the present Afghanistan’s tolerant climate for jihadists. The setting of permissive security encourages collaboration between disparate organizations, among other things. ISKP has reportedly been aggressively recruiting militants from the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) under the direction of a “Uyghur unit,” according to a U.N. report from last year.

Yet, the organization makes an explicit reference to the probable collaboration between the ISKP and the TIP in its most recent report, a group of which China has always been the wariest (although Beijing conflates the group with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and generally uses that name).

According to UN assessment, the two have been working together to spread propaganda in Uyghur, exchange people and military counsel, plan combined assaults, and buy weapons together. This is especially noteworthy since TIP previously sided with ISKP’s adversary al-Qaida.

The ISKP’s campaign against China may result in a number of outcomes, none of which bode well for Afghanistan. Since the Taliban took control over a year ago, China’s economic influence has not lived up to expectations. An Al Jazeera program that looked at the inflow of Chinese businesspeople into Afghanistan paints a fairly gloomy picture of where things may go. The reality is that despite more kind leaders in Kabul, China will probably continue to be very careful about its commitment to the nation and avoid running the danger of a significant security issue. After the suicide attack on the hotel in Kabul in December 2022, China recommended its people to leave that country as soon as possible.

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