In January 2011, Tajikistan ceded 386 square miles or 1,000 square km of land to China, land that was located in the remote, sparsely populated Pamir mountain range. This, China announced, had settled its long border dispute with Tajikistan. We were intrigued. Why would a small piece of land on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan be so important to China?
The only answer we could think of was the Wakhan Corridor. This small corridor, 10-40 miles wide and about 140 miles long, is the only border between Afghanistan and China. This corridor was created in 1873 to separate the Russian sphere, that included Tajikistan, from British-ruled India. Today, the Wakhan corridor sits between Tajikistan, China’s Xinjiang province and Pakistani-occupied part of Kashmir. China is the biggest investor in Tajikistan and Pakistan is critically dependent on China. So the Wakhan corridor is geo-strategically important to China.
Our conjectures about China’s interests in Afghanistan and the resultant importance of the Wakhan corridor to China were laid out in our article Tajikistan Cedes Land to China – A Step Towards Af-Kash-Bet? on January 15, 2011. This article has become the 5th most read article of this Blog since its publication.
(src – Wikipedia) (Wakhan Corridor in red – original src Wikipedia)
While strategic and of long term interest, the Wakhan corridor and its 16,100 feet high Wakhjir Pass is closed during most of the year. So we could not come to grips with how China planned to use the Wakhan corridor to broaden its foray into Afghanistan. This week proved we are simply not as bright or forward thinkers like China’s military leaders. We admit it. Hats off to the Chinese and their unrelenting focus.
This week we learned that China is planning to build a tunnel under the Wakhan corridor to establish all-weather access to Afghanistan. This would be a major engineering feat, not unlike the Trans-Himalayan railway built by China in Tibet. Plans for this tunnel were discussed by General V.K. Singh, the recently retired Chief of the Indian Army, in a conversation with The Telegraph, a prominent Indian newspaper in Kolkata. We urge readers to read the article in the Telegraph published on June 5, 2012.
As the graphic below shows, China’s current access to Pakistan is through the Pakistani-occupied Kashmir via the city of Gilgit. By building an all-weather tunnel to Afghanistan, China gets direct access to Afghanistan completely bypassing Pakistani occupied territories. By securing a shorter, more direct, secure and all-weather road access to Afghanistan, China can increase its presence in Afghanistan and get land access through Afghanistan to Iran and beyond. This will make Pakistan even more dependent on China rather than China being dependent on access via Pakistani-occupied Kashmir.
(src – The Telegraph)
The Battle for Influence and Supremacy in Post-America Afghanistan
Way back in December 2009, we discussed our views about the new and inevitable great game in our article titled The Battle For Afghanistan, Kashmir & Tibet – A Post-American Withdrawal View Of The Region. The pieces are falling into place.
This week, China emphasized its interest in post-America Afghanistan. President Hu Jia Tao met Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai on Friday and announced a new strategic partnership between China and Afghanistan. Afghanistan has already signed a strategic partnership with India. But India does not have a direct land access to Afghanistan. Its air access can be shut down at any time by Pakistan.
China does not have a direct land access with Afghanistan either. But with an all-weather tunnel under the Wakhan corridor it will. Until then, China gets land access to Afghanistan via Pakistani-occupied Kashmir and China already maintains a contingent of military engineers in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. China’s goals in Afghanistan are complimentary to Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan, at least for the near term. In fact, we can picture an Afghanistan living under a loose confederacy of Pakistan dominated Pashtuns in the south, Chinese dominated Tajiks in the northeast and Iranian dominated Hazara in the northwest with possibly Russian-influenced Tajiks-Uzbeks in the north.
The country that will be shut out is India and the country that might lose its considerable investment in Afghanistan is America. This may be why America has begun arguing for a greater role for India in Afghanistan. Frankly, we are not impressed by this soft overture. More importantly, according to Stratfor, Pakistan is not impressed either.
Unlike India or America, China keeps demonstrating its farsightedness, its laser like focus on its strategic goals and its determination to physically build the infrastructure to implement its strategy. The conception of an all-weather tunnel under the Wakhan corridor is the most recent evidence of these traits.
Editor’s PS: The article in the Telegraph was brought to our attention by a reader. We thank him for his help and interest in the Blog.
Send your feedback to [email protected] or @MacroViewpoints on Twitter