Islamabad, Tehran and Kabul form a constellation of assets that adorn the dragon’s crown, as it triumphantly circles over the tombstone of the Pax Americana it so deeply disdained
Shuvaloy Majumdar, Special to National Post
Sep 15, 2021 •
In the skies over the graveyard of empires, at the crossroads of civilizations, the dragon has commenced its descent.
It took two decades to ultimately break the will of the West in Afghanistan, and with it, the Pax Americana that the twin towers once stood as a testament to. American President Joe Biden contends his decision to recklessly concede Afghanistan to the Pakistan-backed Taliban is one of realism and geopolitics: dispense with Afghanistan, so that America can focus on China. This was a monumental misjudgment, as it has allowed China to gain a strategic foothold in the region.
In May 2020, I wrote that China had replaced Russia as the West’s principal rival. Of two nuclear powers, it turned Russia into a gas station and Pakistan into a colony. Behind the curtain of every international strategic consideration is the challenge posed by China, which seeks to carve its economic, political and military arteries across the face of the earth, working toward a global inversion in which an order once underpinned by America is replaced by one concentric to China.
In Afghanistan, modern China isn’t encumbered by the rights of Afghans or the constitution Afghans endorsed through six elections. It isn’t concerned with upholding the rules-based order it exploited in its rise, biding its time to break the West. China’s only concerns are those of hard power, in assembling the geopolitical assets it needs to access Central Asia, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. Afghanistan’s geography is critical to China’s strategic design, while its mineral wealth is peripheral.
China’s neocolonial Belt and Road Initiative refers, explicitly, to reviving the ancient Silk Road spanning from Rome to Xi’an, part of which still exists between Pakistan and the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. Restoring the promise of Xi’an — the economic and cultural capital of the vibrant Tang Dynasty — is existential to Chinese Communist mythology.
In March 2019, China bejewelled its Belt and Road crown with Rome itself, as Italy became the first NATO, G7 and European partner in the project of restoring the Middle Kingdom. In 2015, it launched its ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, having now invested nearly $62 billion in major infrastructure projects it rigidly controls. By 2019, it intensified significant military and intelligence integration between the People’s Liberation Army and the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan’s policy of “strategic depth,” obsessively undermining India from Kabul to Kashmir, finds perfect symmetry with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which obsessively imposes its authoritarian model for economic development.
Over the Labour Day weekend, Pakistan’s drones were reportedly deployed against acting Afghan President Amrullah Saleh’s resistance in the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan. The drones may have even been provided by China, given the latter’s growing role as an arms supplier.
The head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Faiz Hameed, arrived in Kabul to oversee the political management of its fractious, “moderated” proxies, establish a mullah-loaded cabinet and supervise the ISI-Taliban campaign to crush the Afghan national resistance. The resistance’s ongoing presence poses significant inconveniences to Pakistan’s international campaign to normalize the Taliban.
Hameed serves his masters in Beijing well, and China exploits Pakistan’s status as an ally of the United States and NATO, re-purposing the vestiges of Pakistan’s Cold War relationships with the West as an instrument to defeat the West.
With Hameed managing Pakistan’s terror proxies, his foreign minister, Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, took flight to Tehran to engage Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on behalf of his and China’s wider agenda.
Iran’s complex relations with Afghanistan, despite tensions, remains rooted in mutual respect for the durability of one half-century-old Islamic revolution in Iran, and the 20-year tenacity of another in Afghanistan. There is also ultimately an element of pragmatism in Tehran toward the Pakistan-backed Taliban, setting aside sectarian divisions in favour of economic entreaties to China, as Pakistan faithfully sets the table for China’s coming regional diplomacy.
United in anti-democratic and anti-Semitic loathing, Pakistani and Iranian militaries have become enthusiastic courtesans for China’s economic incentives. In March, China announced $400 billion in investments over 25 years in Iran. The deal is intended to undermine Western sanctions and promote nuclear negotiations, including a full-spectrum military agreement across joint exercises, joint research, weapons development and intelligence-sharing.
Within weeks of the American surrender, Abdul Ghani Baradar seized the moment with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China. Having received China’s endorsement, Baradar has since pledged non-interference in Beijing’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, accepted Pakistan’s terror proxies across the ruling council and fully subscribed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Initially promoted by Pakistan as the Taliban’s chief negotiator and agent for normalized Western relations, Pakistan now dispenses with his diplomacy and demoted his status to deputy prime minister, installed amid a nest of ISI-controlled terror masters in their occupation of Afghanistan.
Together, Islamabad, Tehran and Kabul form a constellation of assets that adorn the dragon’s crown, as it triumphantly circles over the tombstone of the Pax Americana it so deeply disdained. Yet China would be wise to employ a measure of caution.
Just outside the den of the dragon, China must also contend with a gathering elephant parade: a democratic India, the home to 1.4 billion people who are gradually casting aside the shackles of Indian non-alignment and socialism, and replacing them with democratic alliances and market-based growth.
If free civilizations are to succeed against China’s emboldened authoritarian global inversion, it is time to dispense with the axioms of the past and replace them with serious thinking, agile tools and new partners.
For us in the West, it requires the strength to lead. We must overcome our widening economic and social deficiencies, see realities for what they are, confront our opponents and conduct the kind of alliance-building that has not been undertaken since the Cold War. At the end of Pax Americana, where the shadow of the dragon state now looms over the crossroads of civilizations, it is time for us to meet the new generation of challenges that have been thrust upon us.
Shuvaloy Majumdar is the foreign policy program director and a Munk senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.