Can China succeed in Afghanistan where other empires have failed?

Beijing intends to take advantage of Washington’s ‘irresponsible withdrawal’ and befriend the Taliban and the Kabul government to exploit the country’s vast mineral wealth. Brian McGleenon reports

Tuesday 20 July 2021 21:30
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<p>Afghan security forces near the Spin Boldak crossing in Kandahar province on the border with Pakistan. The Talban captured a district in the region and raised its flag at the checkpoint last week</p>

Afghan security forces near the Spin Boldak crossing in Kandahar province on the border with Pakistan. The Talban captured a district in the region and raised its flag at the checkpoint last week

In July 1840, intelligence officer Arthur Conolly urged Major-General Henry Rawlinson to “play the noble part” and advance British values into Afghanistan, saying “you have a great game, a noble game, before you”. This game quickly evolved into decades of political rivalry with the Russian empire, and saw the slaughter of tens of thousands in three costly Anglo-Afghan wars that failed to subjugate this mountainous land known as “the graveyard of empires”.

Now, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, has responded to the planned withdrawal of US troops by saying his nation should play its noble part in history and advance “peace, reconciliation and the reconstruction of Afghanistan”. As Mark Twain said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Afghanistan has seen conquerors come and go since the time of Alexander in 330 BC. The United States is the latest power to vacate the region unfulfilled, with its forces scheduled to be fully removed by 31 August 2021. This will conclude the nation’s longest military engagement and one that saw 2,312 US fatalities and an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 civilian casualties. But influence over Afghanistan, long referred to as central Asia’s geopolitical pivot, is tilting eastward and into the extending grasp of an ascendant China.

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