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AfPak and China

According to the Chinese science of strategy, national interest is both the starting point and destination of military strategy. As part of her military strategy, China is vigorously employing soft power in foreign countries by surreptitiously inducting People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under garb of development projects. China’s strategic footprints in Pakistan and POK may have come in recent times but she had already inducted 15,000 Chinese in Afghanistan in year 2001 before the US invasion in Afghanistan got fully underway. Presence of some three million Chinese in Myanmar is well known and so is presence of Chinese nationals in India’s neighbors including recent surge in Sri Lanka where it is believed that company strength of PLA is disguised as development workers in Hambantota. These are strategic moves that enable both enlargement of the economic agenda and a switch when required. China views Afghanistan as a challenge against the US to influence Eurasia and build energy based Eurasian Security Architecture.  Chinese scholars have been talking of an Asian Collective Defence Alliance based on SCO members and the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) headed by Russia. There have also been articles in Chinese media on forming the Pamir Group (China-Afghan-Pak Trilateral) with Chinese investments integrating AfPak and China through a quadrilateral freight railroad from Xinjiang through Tajikistan to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. China may not openly commit troops in Afghanistan but can employ the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) if and when required to defend Chinese assets. For this reason, she is developing communication infrastructure conducive to quick deployment; PLA is constructing a 75 km road extending 10 km inside Afghanistan through the Wakhan Corridor.  China perceives a more active role for herself in reconstruction and development of Afghanistan and will ensure steps to secure its economic interests in Afghanistan as 2014 approaches and beyond. It is for the same reason that China  developed ties with the Taliban; training Taliban in Xinjiang before the US invasion, providing training in handling IR SAMs (2010 media report) and military advisors advising Taliban how to fight the NATO led ISAF. This should be no surprise since China had provided sanctuary to ULFA post their rout from Bhutan and is currently supplying arms to Indian Maoists and PLA in Manipur through Kachen rebels in Myanmar.  Post 2014, Taliban (supported by Pakistan) would likely aim to capture Kunduz and Jalalabad first in order to provide depth to the Chinese road through the Wakhan Corridor. Agha Amin, defence analyst and former Pakistan army officer writes, 
“Utopians in India are jubilant that Pakistan has made peace with India. Nothing in reality can be farther from the truth. …..The real picture of true intentions of the Pakistani military will emerge when the US withdraws from Afghanistan. This will be the time when the Russians, Iranians and Indians will have no choice but to support the Northern Alliance against Pakistan sponsored Taliban who regard all Shias, Ismailis, non-Pashtuns, moderate Pashtuns as infidels who deserve to be massacred… Pakistani politicians will remain the puppets of the military; terrorism will remain a tool of foreign policy while the Pakistani military runs the Pakistani state under a facade of PPP or PML or Tehrik-i-Insaaf. Pakistani military will be hoping to achieve all its objectives: an extremist dominated Afghanistan; a Baluchistan fully fragmented and crushed; a Pakistani political party leading Pakistan fully subservient to the Pakistani military; renewed infiltration in Kashmir; brinkman’s nuclear policy with India; a greater Chinese vassal with far greater Chinese interests in Pakistan… There is no doubt that Pakistan will be a semi autonomous Chinese province by 2030 or so… Pakistani Baluchistan by 2030 would be a completely Chinese run show… This means that Pakistan’s… ever growing reservoir of economically deprived youngsters who will fill ranks of extremists and suicide bombers will continue”. 
China has solidified her stakes in Kabul by inducting Afghanistan as an observer state in SCO. The likely China-Pakistan collusive strategy with respect to Afghanistan post 2014 is likely to be as follows: Pakistan backed Taliban get control of maximum areas of Afghanistan; Pakistan gets her cherished ‘strategic depth’; Kabul Government becomes a Chinese protégé; China becomes the bridge between Afghanistan-Taliban and Afghanistan-Iran; China and Pakistan reap the benefits of Afghanistan reconstruction – lion’s share going to China; the US and NATO are thrown out of the region; India’s land route to Afghanistan / CAR is effectively blocked or becomes contingent upon Chinese terms; China gains global prominence and clout to deal more aggressively with South China Sea, IOR, Taiwan, India, Bhutan and other neighbours. Afghanistan not being a ‘soft’ state and the Afghan National Army having considerably enlarged in numbers and combat potential over the last four years, there is no guarantee this (China-Pakistan) policy will succeed but if it does, Robert Blackwill’s recommendation to divide Afghanistan would inadvertently come into effect. Hasham Baber, Additional Secretary General, Awami National Party, Peshawar. Pakistan wrote in November last: 
“We have seen the consequences of post withdrawal of the Russian forces from Afghanistan in 1989. One would shudder at the very thought of it if Afghanistan is abandoned in a similar manner. The stability of Afghanistan is, in the first place, a regional responsibility coupled with an active role of the US under a UN mandate.  We need a stable, peaceful and governable modern Afghanistan with all the requisite state institutions in place. We need an uninterrupted reconstruction process in Afghanistan.” 
The future of Afghanistan, however, is a host of question marks. What the US and NATO need to ensure is that post 2014, the Afghan National Army must have adequate artillery and air support, plus requisite intelligence and PGM support (Predators) included, by their residual forces to stem the tide of the Taliban beefed up with disguised Pakistani forces, should that happen. Obsessed with ‘strategic depth’ and Kayani openly declaring he ‘wants India out of Afghanistan’, Pakistan will likely continue with its double game, egged on by China. Inaction in acting against the Haqqani network apart, the freedom with which Haqqanis move around in Pakistan is proof enough. Ushering true democracy in Pakistan has little chance with the polity-bureaucracy taken hostage by the military-judiciary combine - as Pakistani media admits. India needs to carefully weigh all options.
The author is a veteran Lieutenant General of the Indian Army
Views expressed are personal
Research Area
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Prakash Katoch
Prakash Katoch is veteran Lt Gen of Indian Army.
Contact at: [email protected]
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