Cracks Emerging in Pakistan-China Ties Over Islamabad's 'Double-Game' in Afghanistan, Say Officials
Government sources watching the intra-Afghan talks say that many governments in the region are now increasingly concerned about the security repercussions of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In pointed references to China and Iran, Indian officials say that the same nations used to criticise the presence of foreign troops in the region.
The outlook of China towards the security situation in Afghanistan has been affected of late by an uptick in violence since 1 May. Beijing is now increasingly concerned about the possibility of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) finding a safe haven in the Central Asian country once the American troops complete their withdrawal process on 31 August.
“Earlier, China used to look at Afghanistan through the prism of Pakistan,” officials at the conference on "Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities" in Dushanbe said when the event took place on 16 July.
However, Indian foreign ministry officials point out that Pakistan’s “double-game” in Afghanistan has recently become "more apparent, evident from recent news reports about hundreds of Taliban* fighters between Afghanistan and Pakistan".
“Pakistan earlier used to deny the presence of the Quetta Shura (a militant organisation composed of the leaders from the Afghan Taliban). Now, the Taliban also holds rallies in Pakistani cities such as Quetta,” note the officials.
The regional connectivity conference in Dushanbe was attended by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, among other leaders.
Officials involved in discussions say that two recent events have played a key role in defining Beijing's evolving perception of Pakistan's role in Afghanistan.
The first was a reported meeting between Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and several Pakistani parliamentarians, during which the Army chief said that they army would be “the first” to recognise the Taliban should it come to power.
The second was the criticism of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan by Afghan President Ghani, while both the leaders were on stage at a regional connectivity conference in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) this month.
"Intelligence estimates indicate the influx of over 10,000 Jihadi fighters (into Afghanistan) from Pakistan and other places in the last month," Ghani said in front of Pakistan's Prime Minister.
Officials present at the event say that Ghani’s criticism of Khan was made at a time when only four leaders, including both of them, were on stage.
"Now, even Beijing is in favour of preserving the gains of the last 20 years... Nobody among regional powers favour a takeover of the country by force," say officials.
At a recent meeting between Wang and the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Sichuan, the two allies called for a “real start” to the intra-Afghan talks to prevent the country from descending into chaos again and becoming a “source of terrorism”.
“Ungovernable” Part of Afghanistan a Major Problem
By July, the Taliban was in control of 212 of the 426 districts in Afghanistan, with the Afghan government in charge in 111 districts. The rest of the districts remain contested, as fighting continues between the insurgents and the government forces.
“If we look at the history of Afghanistan, no power has been able to control the entire territory. Some parts of the country have always remained ungovernable,” say officials, who have served diplomatic postings in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So, even if the Taliban says that it has a “nationalist agenda”, there are terrorist groups operating from these ungovernable parts which have an “international agenda”, they say.
© AP Photo / Nazim QasmyAfghan soldiers pause on a road at the front line of fighting between Taliban and Security forces, near the city of Badakhshan, northern Afghanistan, Sunday, July. 4, 2021.
Afghan soldiers pause on a road at the front line of fighting between Taliban and Security forces, near the city of Badakhshan, northern Afghanistan, Sunday, July. 4, 2021.
© AP Photo / Nazim Qasmy
Besides the China-centred Uyghur terror organisation ETIM, Afghan officials have also reportedly informed their counterparts in the region about the presence of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Al-Qaeda* in Afghanistan.
“Similarly, Russia is concerned that Daesh* could expand its presence in Afghanistan once the troop withdrawal process concludes on 31 August,” officials say.
Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), another jihadist organisation, is of concern to the authorities in Uzbekistan, they say.
*The Taliban, al-Qaeda, Daesh (also known as ISIS/IS/Islamic State) are terrorist groups banned in Russia.