Five years ago, President Obama announced his decision to pull out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014. This led us to write our Post-American Withdrawal View of the Region in December 2009. What was the scenario we discussed then?
- “America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will create a large vacuum in the region. Geostrategy like nature abhors a vacuum and we already see activities from Pakistan, India & China to fill this vacuum. Unfortunately, Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state despite American presence and aid. Pakistan will badly need a major patron who could provide financial and military aid. There is only one such patron around, China.”
- “In our opinion, China could offer Pakistan a very large amount of long term funding in exchange for ceding the Northern Area of Kashmir to China. The Chinese Army could then “legally” enter the Northern Area and occupy it. This will enable China to exert its influence on the new “government” in neighboring Afghanistan. As China has done with Sri Lanka, Myanmar & to a smaller extent in Bangladesh, China will provide a great deal of financial aid to the new Afghan regime and offer military support in exchange for strong influence & semi-vassal status.”
- “This is why we fervently hope that the Obama Mission in Afghanistan succeeds in making both Afghanistan & Pakistan stable entities. Because, if President Obama decides to leave Afghanistan without achieving this aim, then our scenario is likely to occur in some form within a few years of America’s withdrawal.”
A few years after America’s withdrawal? No, our scenario is occurring now, two months before America withdraws the bulk of troops from Afghanistan. Read what Stratfor wrote this week in their article Afghanistan Joins a New Trilateral Relationship:
- “a new arrangement will shape regional security in the post-NATO era as the war-torn country becomes part of a triangular relationship involving China and Pakistan, with Beijing at the center.”
- “During the past few weeks, the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan have visited China. Less than a month after his installation as Hamid Karzai’s successor, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai went on a four-day trip to Beijing at the end of October — his first foreign trip — and secured $245 million in aid over the next three years as well as training for 3,000 Afghan officials spread over five years.”
- “Less than two weeks later, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent three days in the Chinese capital and got Beijing to pledge some $42 billion worth of investments, mainly in the power and energy sectors.”
1. Why did Ashraf Ghani turn away from India?
Over the past several years, India has invested over a billion dollars in building roads in Afghanistan and in development assistance to Afghani institutions. Afghan officers have historically trained in India and the previous President Hamid Karzai was determined build a deep relationship with India. So what changed?
The answer is simple. Geography won. Look at the map below. India has no land access today to Afghanistan. Regardless of its intentions & regardless of what Karzai may have desired, the lack of direct land access makes India irrelevant to Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani, the new Afghan president gets it. As Stratfor writes:
- “For the longest time, Kabul tried to use its close ties to New Delhi to shape Islamabad’s behavior. In recent years, Afghanistan has realized that this approach has offered limited gains. While Afghanistan shares a long border with Pakistan, it has no land connection with India, making New Delhi both unable and unwilling to go beyond a limited involvement in the country.”
America will be gone, India is irrelevant. So where does Ashraf Ghani turn? China.
2. The Critical Importance of Non-Pakistan* to China
Never in its history did China have direct land access to the Persian Gulf. Now they have a realistic opportunity to get it. The key to that is the green area called “Northern Areas” in the map above. This is the piece of land that allows China direct access to Non-Pakistan & the Persian Gulf while simultaneously denying India any access to Afghanistan & the Central Asia.
It is matter of public knowledge that China is building a railway link from Chinese province of Xinjiang through Gilgit in the “Northern Areas” across today’s Non-Pakistan to Gwadar, the naval base China is building at the opening of the Persian Gulf near NPak’s border with Iran.
Think about the $42 billion in funding that China has promised Non-Pakistan. This is a huge amount considering that the US aid has been around $2 billion annually. Which power & energy projects need such an astronomical amount of funding? Again look to the “Northern Areas” for answer. China is already building hydro-electric projects in these “Northern Areas” as “aid” to NPak*. Like all Chinese projects, these require occupation of the land by Chinese Army to safeguard these projects & to protect Chinese workers. Naturally, these projects require displacement of the native Kashmiri people from that land. These are the first steps towards occupation of the “Northern Areas”, at least the northern region of the “Northern Areas” by the China.
Recall how effectively NPak used to close down access of American supplies to Afghanistan whenever a dispute arose with between US & NPak. China probably wants no part of that nonsense. That is why China needs to occupy a substantial portion of the “Northern Areas” to build secure road access from Chinese Xinjiang & Tibet to Afghanistan. This secure land access is critical for China to protect, secure and control its future investments in Afghanistan and to deny NPak any control over Chinese supply chain into Afghanistan.
What investments could China have in the mess that is Afghanistan? Stratfor writes:
- “Beijing has its eyes on what a U.S. geological survey said amounts to $3 trillion in untapped mineral and energy resources in Afghanistan.”
Is $42 billion in “power & energy aid” worth getting access to $3 trillion in mineral & energy resources?
And don’t forget that Afghanistan provides China a direct land access to Iran and China is Iran’s largest customer for oil. Control of “Northern Areas” & controlling influence in Afghanistan could enable China to build a direct oil pipeline through Afghanistan, the “Northern Areas” into Chinese Xinjiang. And oil from such a pipeline could be fed down to Non-Pakistan to deliver energy to that failed state. This could be an enormous win-win-win-win for China, Afghanistan, NPakistan & Iran.
Don’t you think $42 billion is a cheap price for such enormous strategic & economic potential? Compare that amount to what America spent in Afghanistan over the last dozen years. And remember the $42 billion is just a promise. The Chinese are not stupid enough to pay first and get later.
3. The Alternatives & Risks
But for the control of another major player like China, the Af-NPak region could descend into another ISIS-like battlefield. And it may still do so if the NPak army & ISI cannot change their spots. It is not clear that the Taleban will quietly fade into peaceful existence after fighting both USSR & USA for over three decades. But their threat can be reduced if both Afghani & NPakistani militaries attack them from both sides of the Af-NPak line of control.
This assumes China has both the muscle and the mental toughness to make NPak military & ISI toe the Chinese line, something America could not do. As Stratfor writes:
- “Neither Chinese investment that will re-energize the Pakistani state nor Afghan-Pakistani cooperation is a given. However, these two factors are the critical ingredients that can help create a bulwark to prevent the region from becoming worse than it was before 9/11.”
And that is today’s objective for America, China, Iran, and even for India.
4. Where Stratfor could be wrong or merely silent?
We do not believe China expects to “re-energize the NPak state” as Stratfor writes. In fact, a truly re-energized NPak would chafe under their vassal-like dependence on China. So China would prefer to keep NPak in its current needy helpless economic state.
China has two strategic objectives in our opinion.
- China has always sought to protect the Chinese center by building buffer states. That was Mao’s principal reason in annexing & occupying Xinjiang. An ISIS-like terrorist state or even a terrorist-haven state like pre 9/11 Afghanistan would create an Islamic terror challenge to Chinese Xinjiang. Control of Kashmir’s “Northern Areas” and resultant direct land access to Afghanistan would create a buffer region for Chinese Xinjiang.
- The second longer-term objective is to build a land corridor linking Eastern regions of China through Chinese Tibet (already accomplished) to Kashmir’s “Northern Areas” to Afghanistan & then onto Iran – an east-west land corridor across the Himalayan range that leads to both commerce & total control of the Himalayan range – the dream we call Af-Kash-Bet – an integrated Afghanistan-Kashmir-Tibet region as a part of China.
Those who would scoff at the second longer-term objective should remember that China began this process by annexing Xinjiang in 1949, by annexing Tibet a few years later. Having annexed these two huge states, China needed a land bridge between Xinjiang and Tibet. So a few years later, China annexed the Aksai Chin area (shaded smaller region to the right of the orange area which is India’s Kashmir state) from Indian control a few years later. Then China began pressuring NPak to allow Chinese “projects” in the green “Northern Areas” held by NPak thus creating a land corridor from Chinese Xinjiang to NPakistan and south to the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. Now the exit of America from Afghanistan provides China an opportunity to build a land corridor through the green “Northern Areas” into Afghanistan and then to Iran.
The Chinese have long-term objectives and they are achieving those slowly & opportunistically.
5. China’s Limitations
The biggest limitation comes from the malaise that is gripping China’s economy. Even the bulls on China concede that China faces a major restructuring of its economy from a fixed-asset oriented economy towards a consumer economy. Rarely has such a restructuring succeeded without substantial economic pain. The steep fall in the value of Japanese Yen engineered by Japanese Central Bank is already putting intense pressure on the Chinese export sector. Chinese production and products could soon become too expensive relative to Japan’s if the Yen keeps going down. This is turning into a currency war against China that could force China to devalue the Yuan, an act that would create serious dislocations within China and in the many currency-swap arrangements China has struck with countries from Russia to Brazil to Canada.
Finally there is the danger of imperial overreach. China is already larger in land mass than at any time in its long history. There comes a time when strategic ambitions becomes too expensive for the center of an empire.
But these are concerns for a later date. Today, the world wants to ensure that an Islamic terrorist haven does not get re-established in the Af-NPak region. And if China can help ensure that, then so be it.
* Editor’s Note: The name Pak-I-Stan means the land of the spiritually pure. This name is the ethos, the central concept of that regime & its people. Remember preserving purity is only possible by removing impurities, in this case, by cleansing of that land of all “impure” kafirs or infidels like Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and apostate Islamic sects like Ahemadiya & Shia. Christians are being relatively tolerated because that regime is dependent on American money & support. This concept of Pak-I-stan is far worse than the master race concept of German Nazis because the master race does allow other races to live as servants. The West always calls that German regime as Nazi Germany and never by its formal name Third Reich. We happen to believe that Indian & Asian lives are as important as European lives. So we refuse to use that utterly horrific name Pakistan, the name whose concept has led to religious cleansing of millions. So we modify that name with Non-Pakistan or simple NPakistan.
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