Last week, the US troops left the Bagram Airbase, the largest US military base in Afghanistan. However, the Afghan Commander of Bagram base, Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, said that the Americans left overnight without informing them. The step could be security caution exercised by the United States. However, overall, it shows the US is in a hurry to leave Afghanistan.
With the US so much pressed to withdraw troops even before the decided timeline, geopolitical analysts have expressed worries that China, with the help of terror state Pakistan, could come to fill the void left behind by the United States here. There are several reasons to believe that these fears could indeed come true.
Firstly, the Spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, confirmed that China was engaged in discussions on the extension of CPEC with third parties, including Afghanistan. Here, the order of words itself shows that for China, Afghanistan as a nation and Afghan people will be the last priority while extending the China-Pakistan joint project of CPEC, which is a part of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).
Secondly, China is attracted to Afghan mineral wealth. Beijing has already won exploration rights for lithium, copper, oil, coal, etc., across Afghanistan. Recently, there have been reports of the Chinese being given the rights to develop one more copper mine in Afghanistan.
Here, one must know that in 2006, the US Geological Survey conducted surveys to understand the mineral distribution in Afghanistan. It estimated that Afghanistan holds 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth minerals, as well as significant quantities of aluminium, lithium, gold, silver, zinc, mercury, etc. Khanneshin carbonatite deposits in this country explain the geoeconomic importance of these deposits. This wealth in Helmand province, full of rare earth elements, was valued at $89 billion way back in 2014. Besides, a USGS task force had valued Afghanistan’s mineral resources at $908 billion in 2010. Moreover, the Afghan government estimate its value at $3 trillion, while several geological reports value it at $1 trillion.
Thirdly, the New York Post recently reported that China is in talks with the Afghan leadership to build a Peshawar-Kabul motorway.
Amid all this, it is clear that given the unlimited hunger and insatiable greed of resources worldwide, China won’t stay away from Afghanistan. The only question remains is when China will go about it openly. If it happens, it will be a test for India and Russia as Afghanistan is an area of natural influence and keen interest for both.