Washington, DC – Islamist forces that are inimical to China are set to increase their attacks in Afghanistan after Beijing signed an oil extraction deal with Kabul. They do not seem to be happy with China growing its footprints in the war-torn country, reflected in the recent attacks on Chinese nationals and projects in the region. The ruling Taliban government’s support to China in commercial exploitations in mineral-rich Afghanistan has not gone well with these radical forces, including the formidable Islamic State. Moreover, the charges of persecution of minority Uyghur Muslims are adding to China’s problem.
These forces have a strong presence in Afghanistan and the Middle East, where China faces opposition and its citizens and projects are attacked. Militant attacks on Chinese citizens and projects are frequently reported from neighboring Pakistan despite China being the biggest foreign investor in the country. People in Pakistan have been protesting against China, objecting to the over-exploitation of natural resources and its growing economic and military influence. Islamist forces are suspicious of similar developments in Afghanistan as Beijing is trying to fill the gap left by the US.
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.
China is trying to rip off benefits in Afghanistan in the backdrop of the isolation of the Taliban regime by the west block. The estimated value of mineral wealth in Afghanistan is between $1-3 trillion. However, international experts feel it is a big mistake. Afghanistan is called the “Graveyard of Empires” as the British, Russians, and Americans faced humiliating defeat there. Steve Tsang, director of the London-based SOAS China Institute, said China may still get its fingers burned as it is likely to see attacks from Islamist forces, including ISIS-K, TIP, and even Taliban fighters. “Just as the Americans did not learn the lessons of the Russians and the British before them, the chance is that the Chinese will not learn from the American mistakes either,” he said.