U.S. Pulls Out of Bagram: Will China’s BRI Rebuild Afghanistan? Will British Empire Reignite War?
July 5, 2021 (EIRNS)—The U.S. cleared out of the Bagram Air base near Kabul over the weekend, amidst great tension and confrontation at various locations in Afghanistan, and much international media speculation over when and how the nation may shift into collaboration with China and Russia. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a July 2 Global Times interview that China is important for the stability and peace of Afghanistan. There needs to be a platform of talks on this in Beijing; and also for a Troika to help from China, Russia and Pakistan.
The Taliban has taken over six districts in the province of Badakhshan, in the north, which borders Tajikistan and China. The number of Afghan troops that fled into Tajikistan over the weekend is now reported by TASS to be more than 1,000. “In the course of shootouts with the Taliban, 1,037 military servicemen of Afghan government troops retreated through the border areas ... to the territory of Tajikistan in order to save the lives of military personnel,” the Tajik border service reported. TASS reports that the Russian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north has suspended operations over security issues in the region.
Yesterday, President Ashraf Ghani called President Vladimir Putin over the situation. Today, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib is in Moscow for security talks.
Today in London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is presiding over a meeting of his National Security Council, on decisions over what British forces will remain in Afghanistan. Alex Younger, the Chief of MI6 up until September 2020, said on Sky News on July 4 that President Trump had made an awful mistake with the Doha peace plan, and that it would be “an enormous mistake” to leave Afghanistan. News reports have emerged, meanwhile, that about 750 British Special Air Services (SAS) soldiers will stay behind after the withdrawal of the regular troops is completed to serve in an “advisory” role.
The BBC is playing up the consequences. “If they leave behind their forces, against the Doha agreement, then in that case it will be the decision of our leadership how we proceed,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen was quoted as having told BBC. “We would react and the final decision is with our leadership.... We are against the foreign military forces, not diplomats, NGOs and workers and NGOs functioning and embassies functioning—that is something our people need. We will not pose any threat to them.”
On the question of Afghanistan moving to the BRI, the Daily Beast is full of speculation.
It reports an anonymous government-associated source to say that the government is turning to China for an extension of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs from Kashgar in western China through Balochistan to the port of Gwadar, parallel to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and Iran. Presently, China is linked to Pakistan’s Peshawar by a key highway, which could be extended to Kabul in Afghanistan. Another source privy to conversations between Beijing and Kabul elaborated: “There is a discussion on a Peshawar-Kabul motorway between the authorities in Kabul and Beijing. Linking Kabul with Peshawar by road means Afghanistan’s formal joining of CPEC.”
In other words: The Afghan government, behind the scenes, is welcoming China immediately after saying goodbye to America. China has been keen on extending its BRI to Afghanistan, and has been inviting Kabul to join it for at least five years. But the U.S.-backed Afghan government was hesitant to join BRI for fear of Washington’s reaction. According to the second source: “There has been continuous engagement between the Afghan government and the Chinese for the past few years ... [but] that made the U.S. suspicious of the President Ashraf Ghani government,” the source said. He went on that, now, the engagement is growing “more intense,” as U.S. forces are leaving, and “Ghani needs an ally with resources, clout and ability to provide military support to his government.” Of some note, the assessment is that the Taliban may not stand in the way of extending CPEC into Afghanistan if it brings economic benefit to the country.