Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid expressing that the group "desires" to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) amid reports suggesting that the ISI supported the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan will make New Delhi's ears perk up.
But before we examine why India should be concerned about the Taliban's statement, let's briefly examine what CPEC is, why China is reaching out to the insurgent group and what Pakistan said:
What is CPEC?
CPEC is a part of China's most ambitious project 'Belt and Road Initiative', aimed at renewing the country's historic trade routes in the coastal countries of South-East Asia. In 2015, China announced the 'China Pakistan Economic Corridor' (CPEC) project which is worth $46 billion.
Why is it important?
With CPEC, Beijing aims to expand its influence in Pakistan and across Central and South Asia in order to counter the influence of the United States and India. The CPEC would link Pakistan's southern Gwadar port (626 kilometers west of Karachi) in Balochistan on the Arabian Sea to China's western Xinjiang region. It also includes plans to create road, rail, and oil pipeline links to improve connectivity between China and West Asia.
Why China is reaching out to the Taliban
At a time when world leaders are still weary of diplomatic dealings with Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, China has established its first diplomatic contact with the militant group, aimed at pushing forward its ambitious project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, to Kabul. Sources said that in a bid to push the CPEC, China is exploring opportunities to exploit Pakistan to enter the war-torn country.
Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, met Abdul Salam Hanafi, the deputy head of the Taliban political office in Qatar, in Kabul and had unimpeded and effective communication and consultation, sources said.
Talking about the meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in a media briefing in Beijing, "China respects the Afghan people's independent decision on their own future and destiny, and supports the implementation of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned principle."
He also said that China will develop good, neighbourly relations of friendship and cooperation with Afghanistan and play a constructive role in the peace and reconstruction of the country. Seeing the swift changes in the security challenges in Afghanistan and the new diplomatic alignments, India is keeping a close watch on the developments in the war-torn nation. Sources said the Chinese are in talks with the Taliban and has again proposed the construction of the Peshawar-Kabul road.
Chinese proposal for the construction of the Peshawar-Kabul motorway was anticipated by the Indian security establishment even before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Why should India be wary?
It is possible that the Taliban, in looking to get on side with China, could hand over the Bagram airbase to China and Kandahar base to Pakistan for operational purposes.
A delegation of Chinese leaders held a meeting with the Taliban top hierarchy to discuss various security-related issues, including the possible takeover of the Bagram military airfield, sources told Daily Pioneer.
“The Kandahar base will give an operational military edge to Pakistan for better coverage of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) for security purposes and targeting Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in times of conflict with India. The Bagram base, on the other hand, will give Beijing an additional airbase to contain India and also secure its investments in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),” a counter-terrorism expert told the outlet.
Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, had said last year that Pakistan is becoming a pawn in the Chinese policy and could use the country to enter Afghanistan after the exit of US forces. Bhadauria had said that US exit from Afghanistan will open options for China in the region, both direct and through Pakistan, allowing it entry into Central Asia, a region it has been eyeing for long.
What Pakistan said
As per Dawn, interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Monday welcomed the Taliban’s desire for Afghanistan’s inclusion in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and termed it an encouraging sign. “It is good if Taliban’s views about China are similar to that of Pakistan,” he told a press conference.
Rashid said CPEC was an economic lifeline for the country. “Pakistan is proud of its friendship with China and if Taliban hold similar views, then it is really good,” he said.
With inputs from agencies