Islamist forces to increase attacks in Afghanistan due to growing Chinese footprint in country

Following Beijing’s signing of an oil extraction agreement with Kabul, islamist parties that are hostile to China are expected to intensify their attacks in Afghanistan. The latest attacks on Chinese nationals and projects in the area show that they do not appear to be happy with China expanding its imprint in the war-torn nation. These extremist forces, including the potent Islamic State, have taken issue with the Afghan government and the Taliban’s support for China’s commercial mining operations in the country’s mineral-rich interior. China’s issue is made worse by claims of persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

In Afghanistan and the Middle East, where China encounters opposition and has its nationals and projects targeted, these forces are heavily present. Despite China being the largest foreign investor in Pakistan, there are frequently reports of militant attacks against Chinese citizens and projects. People in Pakistan have been opposing China because they disapprove of the overuse of natural resources and the expansion of China’s economic and military dominance. As Beijing tries to fill the void left by the US, Islamist forces are wary of similar developments there.

China has clear objectives of exploiting the vast mineral wealth in Afghanistan. But its intentions to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan has become an issue of concern. ISIS-K, the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group, expressed its fears in the English-language magazine Voice of Khorasan in September 2022. It blamed China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI)—CPEC is a part of it—for throwing the third-world countries into the “vicious cycle of debt and default” and infringing upon their sovereignty. 

“China might be using such loan schemes for weakening those poor third world countries and bolster their influence in those areas for establishing a neo-Chinese colony,” reads the article. Moreover, the ISIS-K slammed China for its hands being “soaked with the blood of innocent Uyghurs” and warned it of considerable losses to the BRI and other projects. Islamic State, its affiliates, and its supporter militant groups have been carrying out kidnappings and killing of Chinese citizens, besides bombing Chinese projects.

The latest attack of December 2022, in which five Chinese nationals were wounded in a hotel bombing in Kabul, appears to be a part of anti-China sentiments. It was to support Uyghur Muslims and to protest the Taliban’s act of preventing Afghans from supporting the Uyghurs. The attack on Chinese citizens had a visible impact. The Chinese businesspersons mulled leaving the war-torn country. Entrepreneur Yu Minghui, who is building a manufacturing plant in Afghanistan, said most of the Chinese investors returned to China. “I think maybe 80 percent will not return,” he said.

Taliban is allowing China in Afghanistan to get international recognition. However, it is leading to anger against China growing among radical Muslim groups. ISIS-K has become a popular anti-China force in Afghanistan as it rakes up the harms of China’s imperialistic policies and the brutal repression of Uygur Muslims. The East Turkistan Islamic Movement (now Turkistan Islamic Party) can attack Chinese projects in Afghanistan to avenge the suppression of Uyghurs in China. Similarly, militant Baloch groups too can target Chinese projects in Afghanistan to protest against the exploitation of natural resources, killings, and loss of land and livelihoods due to CPEC in Pakistan’s Balochistan.

In Afghanistan, China is attempting to take advantage of the Taliban regime’s isolation from the west block. Between $1 and $3 trillion is the estimated worth of Afghanistan’s mineral riches. Experts, though, believe it to be a serious error. Because of the terrible defeats the British, Russians, and Americans suffered there, Afghanistan is known as the “Graveyard of Empires.”  China may yet suffer consequences, according to Steve Tsang, head of the SOAS China Institute in London, as attacks from jihadist groups like ISIS-K, TIP, and even Taliban fighters are likely to occur. The likelihood is that the Chinese will not learn from American failures, he continued, “just as the Americans did not learn the lessons of the Russians and the British before them.”

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