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China’s Interests in Afghanistan; By Adithya Krishna

Picture Courtesy: Reuters

C3S Article no: 0070/2017


Sino-Afghan relations can be traced back to the ancient age. The old ‘Silk road’ stretching from China to Rome was opened by Chang Chien, a special envoy of Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty, a military alliance with the Afghans to contain the Hsiung-nu tribesmen in the Oxus river valley are aspects that describe the shared history of the two nations. It is said that in as early as 104 B.C an official envoy of the Afghan kingdom travelled the Silk Road to the Chinese Imperial Court. Visits were exchanged by monks and philosophers from both Afghanistan and China, connected by the ‘Silk Road’ made cultural exchange possible. Delegation and cultural exchange visits were prominent at the time of the Kushan Empire which dominated the Afghanistan region till about fifth century. Many monks permanently settled in China to establish missionary work. The famous Hsuan Tsang visited the giant rock statues of Buddha at Bamia marking an important event in the Sino-Afghan relations (circa 636) and since then many other dignitaries exchanged value systems and culture throughout their visits. [1]

Modern diplomatic relations between the two countries was first established in the later part of the 20th century and exchanging bilateral visits by the head of governments for the first time. Important agreements were signed between the two countries from sharing borders to various other aspects and naturally, China hoped to revive the old alliance when it signed the ‘Friendship and Mutual Non-aggression’ treaty with Afghanistan. This cemented the relationship between China and Afghanistan and opened up the prospects for future cooperation. However, the relations between the two countries were strained with the intervention of the Soviet Union and with the eventual formation of a Soviet backed government meant the Chinese had to break ties with Afghanistan and in the subsequent years with the establishment of the Taliban regime called for a complete withdrawal of diplomatic and trade relations.

Ever since the military intervention in Afghanistan diplomatic relations between China and Afghanistan have been re-established with the former making efforts in the capacity building of Afghanistan along with other major nations such as the USA (United States of America) and India.

This paper aims to analyse the strategic importance of Afghanistan for China given the latter’s assertive foreign policy in establishing itself as a potent force. The paper also aims to focus on the increasing energy collaboration and other commercial engagements between the two countries. However, security concerns continue to haunt China’s various interests as part of its ‘Development Strategy’ in Afghanistan. The paper also aims to analyse the depth of China’s security engagement in Afghanistan in the near future and India’s way forward.


The assertiveness of China in establishing itself as a regional authority for a long time has always been centric to the formulation of its foreign policy and the perfect use of Statecraft is well demonstrated, history is a testimonial to this fact. This is evident, as explained by Shen-Yu Dai in an article for the ‘The China Quarterly’: [2]

Along with Buddhist pilgrims, China sent other envoys to travel the Silk Road for geographical, commercial and political exploration, resulting in the earliest works on Central Asia (circa 658). Tribute- paying missions went to the Chinese Court as early as 605-616. The Afghan area as part of the Islamic Empire sent as many as thirty-five annual official missions to China between 713 and 755. The Tang Dynasty “performed the remarkable feat of sending an army of 10,000 men which marched up the Pamirs of Kashgar” across the Sinkiang-Wakhan-Kashmir mountain ranges to set up a military garrison in the Hunza valley, thereby establishing a long tradition of Chinese authority over neighbouring areas up to the time of 1911 Revolution.

In the following years with the fall of the T’ang dynasty, fragmented and weak kingdoms tried to pacify the Islamic empire established in Afghanistan and the rise of the Mongol expansion made accessibility of the famous Silk Road minimalistic. However certain kingdoms in Afghanistan re-established communications with the Ming Dynasty in China. Towards the 17th and 18th century, China restored its military role in the Sinkiang (today is known as Xinjiang) Tibet region with the help of the Ch’ing Dynasty and with that the resurgence of the Silk Road, trade and commerce flourished again. Although relocated to the oceanic routes as a result of China’s contraction and the advent of Western imperialism towards the latter half of the 18th century.

During the pre and post World War era both Nationalist and Communist governments in China sought warm relations with Afghanistan as they embraced their connected history. During the course of these wars, Afghanistan and China established good cooperation. Afghanistan became independent at the end of the First World War while China was battling imperialism and political instability. However the question over neutrality viz. Afghanistan was left to the British counterparts by the Chinese. The consequence of such an action resulted in politically abandoning the Silk Road.

During the Second World War, an independent Afghanistan kept the Afghan establishment busy in framing the diplomatic course of their country in West Asia. With the intervention in the war and persistence of the United States of America, China joined the Allied forces and what was termed as the ‘Eastern anchor of the Grand Alliance’. The United States of America urged the Nationalist Chinese government to approach Afghanistan and other West Asian countries to join its fold which eventually resulted in China and Afghanistan signing the Treaty of Amity in 1944. The document was signed in Ankara by the envoys to Turkey of both China and Afghanistan and was seen as a diplomatic gesture in building up future ties. [3]

The communist revolution resulted in the establishment of a new government in China and Afghanistan was one among the early countries that recognized People’s Republic of China (PRC) with the former sending diplomatic note to Premier Chou. However formal diplomatic relations could only be established in 1955 because China was apprehensive and viewed the proximity of engagement by Afghanistan with the United States of America at that time was not in its interests.

In 1960 People’s Republic of China and Afghanistan signed a treaty of Friendship and mutual non-aggression, recognizing the growing bilateral relations between the two countries. Under the treaty, both countries agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation. [4]. The following are the clauses as mentioned in the treaty:

1: Article I. The Contracting Parties recognize and respect each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial Integrity.

2: Article II. The Contracting Parties will maintain and develop peaceful and friendly relations between the two countries. They undertake to settle all disputes between them by means of peaceful negotiation without resorting to force.

3: Article III. Each Contracting Party undertakes not to commit aggression against the other and not to take part in any military alliance directed against it.

  1. Article IV. The Contracting Parties have agreed to develop and further strengthen the economic and cultural relations between the two countries in the spirit of friendship and cooperation and in accordance with the principles of equality and mutual benefit and of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

  2. Article V. The present treaty is subject to ratification and the instruments of ratification will be exchanged in Peking[1]as soon as possible.

China was clear and pragmatic as far as Afghanistan was concerned as it did expect an independent foreign policy from the Afghan establishment. Clauses three and four of the treaty might be viewed as a possible pressure tactic that China looked to exert over Afghanistan to counter the presence and influence of the Western Block.

With the progression of the relationship between the two countries, China specifically insisted on terminating the treaty signed between Afghanistan and the erstwhile Republic of China. Perhaps PRC wanted to maintain the ‘One China policy’ which was deliberated upon by both the countries during their bilateral discussions held on the signatory of ‘Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Non-aggression’. Diplomatic notes were exchanged between PRC and Afghanistan regarding the same including the termination of the 1944 treaty that was signed between Afghanistan and the National Government of the Republic of China in Ankara, Turkey. The confirmation of acknowledgement and the reply from the Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan was incorporated as annexures of ‘Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Non-aggression’ and completed the exchange of, the instruments of ratification on the 26thof August 1960. [5].

Diplomatic ties between Afghanistan and China blossomed as they concluded another important issue regarding the border dispute between the two nations. In 1962 both the countries agreed to hold boundary negotiations to resolve the border issue bilaterally. The crux of the negotiations from China’s perspective was the interpretation and the determination of the Afghan-Soviet-China tri-point, broadly referring to China’s claims over the Pamir Mountains which was controlled by the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). China’s diplomatic strategy was to make sure that Afghanistan didn’t internationalize the disputed tri-point and ensuring that it remained a bilateral issue between the already deteriorated Sino-Soviet relations. In return, China agreed to accept the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the basis for determining the border thus abandoning any claims to the Wakhan Corridor which the PRC maps had earlier indicated as part of China gave complete sovereignty to Afghanistan over the region.

Soon both countries signed a border treaty that largely followed the line set by Russia and Britain in 1895. Thereafter the two countries signed a boundary protocol in 1965 at the end of the demarcation process. [6]. Present day boundaries begin with the triple border of both countries with PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) and end at the same point with Tajikistan (formerly part of USSR). The Wakhan Corridor separates Tajikistan from PoK and the Chalachigu Valley in Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County, Xinjiang, delimits the territories of the two countries, 76 kilometres (47 mi). From southwest to northeast, the Wakhijar Pass in the Hindu Kush mountain range is the only pass that links the Wakhan corridor and the Chalachigu Valley at an altitude of 4,923 meters(16,152 ft).The unclassified records from the US Embassy in Kabul give a detailed report on the border protocol that was signed.

One of the turning points in the Sino-Afghan relations can be traced back to the events that followed during the Cold War. China strongly opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, condemning what was referred as the ‘encirclement policy’. However, the Soviet Union remained unbent by any criticism. The Brezhnev doctrine according to the USSR allowed the Soviets to intervene in communist states facing domestic uprising hence justified their action. A declassified CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) document recorded the response of China against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and exposed the trust deficit that existed. [7]

Beijing’s public reaction to the Soviet invasion has combined a drumbeat of criticism with calls for an unspecified action by anti-hegemonists to thwart the Soviet move. […].

China realigned its foreign policy in the 1970’s in the view of what it perceived as a security threat from the USSR’s increasing presence in Afghanistan and parts of East Asia reflecting the Soviet Union’s hegemonic intentions as part of its ‘encirclement policy’. Rapprochement with the United States was noted as part of the shift in China’s foreign policy to counter the presence of the Soviets in Afghanistan.

China openly accused the USSR of bringing instability into the region and called for a unified stance of countries with common interests against the Soviet Union. The declassified CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) memorandum on ‘The position of the PRC on Afghanistan’ stated that Chinese leaders at various instances had raised support for the anti Babrak Karmal[i] government forces in Afghanistan and that the Communist Government in China was willing to provide active political, moral and material support to those who opposed the USSR’s policy in Afghanistan. [8]. However, the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan lasted a decade. The Soviet Union was eventually defeated by the combined forces of the Mujahideen supported by the United States of America. PRC had very limited relations with Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and the Chinese embassy was degraded to a representative office. The civil war that manifested post the Soviet withdrawal and the establishment of the Taliban thereafter deepened the security crisis in the region.

In the initial period, the Taliban promised to establish law and order after the Civil War and therefore enjoyed the popularity of the people. The Taliban regime was the most regressive and ultraconservative in the sense that basic human rights were overridden and resulting in a theocratic State deprived of any democratic institutions. However, the entire discourse of the country’s future changed with the US invasion that succeeded in toppling the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. China responded immediately to the attacks and the President of PRC Jiang Zemin offered his condolences and support to President Bush. The UNSC including the PRC (permanent member) voted for resolution 1368 (to combat terrorism) and expressed “unconditional” support in fighting terrorism. [9]. However, PRC viewed that any military action by the US in Afghanistan must be well deliberated and arrived at a consensus. China obviously wanted to be part of the larger decision-making process fearing a possible NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) influence in Central and East Asian countries which may impact its strategic and security interests in the region.

The US led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 ensured the defeat of the Taliban Government, former President Hamid Karzai was made the interim in charge of the country by United Nations sponsored conference in Bonn, Germany. PRC sent a working delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which attended the Afghan Interim Administration’s foundation ceremony and welcomed the new government under President Hamid Karzai and re-established relations between the two countries. In Beijing, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in a joint statement by the ministers of foreign affairs of the member states upon discussing the security situation also welcomed the new government in place [10]. Although China was initially apprehensive about a US led military action in Afghanistan, however, realized that it was a victim of radicalism and illegal activities emanating from the region. Hence in the view of its security interests, China assured diplomatic cooperation to the US led coalition.


Although China has maintained a low profile when compared to India in the rebuilding process of Afghanistan has however succeeded in bringing the country under its ambit of global influence as such. Former President Hamid Karzai’s first official visit as head of State (provincial government) to China reflected the importance and recognition attached to China as a regional power.  In 2012 the two countries in a joint declaration elaborated on a new Strategic and Cooperative partnership carrying forward the existing ties with a common interest and mutual benefits. [11]. The US led NATO’s presence in Afghanistan to an extent ensured the stabilization process in the war torn country which paved way for its re-construction efforts of many countries which also comprise China and India.

Former President Karzai’s visit to China in 2006 initiated the engagement between the two countries. Although China’s ambition to become a global leader was purely shaped on an economic perspective at that point in time understood economic diplomacy as a means to achieve super status. Engagement in trade and business, capacity building and counter terrorism was in mutual interests as laid out in a joint statement during the visit. However by including Afghanistan in the SCO as part of a “contact group protocol” China expressed intentions of a larger role in the future. [12].

The geographical location of Afghanistan plays a vital role in securing the strategic interests of China. The country’s ambitious global outreach including Afghanistan is viewed beyond infrastructure connectivity and capacity building, there are underlying currents that carry strategic interests which may assist in diplomatic flexing and circumvent obstacles that may have emerged as a challenge if not a threat.

Energy plays a vital role in China’s global diplomacy and its foreign policy is an outcome of ‘strategic assessment’ of geopolitics, past, present and future. Engaging with nations that serve Chinese interests is an essential feature of China’s foreign policy. China’s increasing want for crude oil and natural gas to meet its energy demands are on an exponential rise. Today China is one of the largest importers of crude oil and projected to surpass the United States in the long run to become the world’s largest importer of crude oil. In 2010 China’s net oil imports stood at 4.8 million barrels per day behind the United States. However recent data on China’s energy imports indicate an enormous rise in its crude oil imports. As of 2017, China’s oil imports stood at as high as 9.17 million barrels per day only for the month of March making it the largest importer of crude oil overtaking the US. [13].

In the last decade, China intensified its energy consumption to sustain its large economy and the domestic production unable to meet the vast energy requirements created substantial deficit forcing a tilt towards Central and West Asian countries for its energy imports. China’s crude oil imports from the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) countries accounted for about 57% of its total imports in 2016 which is likely to increase going by the future projections. This has made China heavily dependent on the OPEC countries to meet its energy demands. However, data also indicated imports from none- OPEC countries are on the rise. [14]. Hence China’s outreach to the Arab world is transactional and limited in scope far away from the political discourse of West Asia.

However, a higher cause of concern for China is ‘The Malacca Dilemma’. Nearly 80% of China’s oil imports pass through the Malacca Strait en-route from West Asia. Lack of alternative sea routes has made China vulnerable to a possible political grip over the region by its adversaries thereby threatening its larger interests pushed the policy makers in Beijing to emulate a counter strategy to limit its dependency on the busy trade route. China views Afghanistan as a catalyst in overcoming the obstacles of maritime trade.

China’s commercial engagements in West Asia and parts of Central Asia to reduce dependency on existing trade channels are efforts prioritizing issues concerned with the national interest.

In an effort to build alternative routes for energy imports China and Kazakhstan signed an agreement in 1997 for the construction of an oil pipeline. The construction of the first section of the pipeline was completed in 2003 and the work on the remaining agreed sections (Atasu-Alashankou, Kenkiyak – Kumkol) completed in 2009. The existing Kazakhstan-China terrain oil pipeline allows China to import oil from Central Asia. The pipeline runs from the Kazakhstan’s Caspian shore to Xinjiang in China. It was estimated that 65% of China’s oil imports were to be met through the existing oil line by the year 2020. Since the commencement of the commercial operations of the pipeline in 2006 the oil imports crossed over 100 million tonnes in early 2017.      [15]. But Kazakhstan oil imports form only 2% of China’s total global oil imports. Although expanding its maritime foot print in an effort to protect its trade interests, it is however essential to establish alternatives to derail the efforts of opponents to contain China in future conflicts.

China has been successful with the implementation of the Kazakhstan oil pipeline initiated an expansion project for low-cost energy imports. A proposal for the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines supposed to have been discussed, linking the Central and Eastern countries. China was ambitious to replicate a transit pipeline project in Afghanistan to channel the country’s gas supply.

According to an article published in The Jamestown Foundation, China initiated talks with Afghanistan for a transit pipeline for Turkmenistan gas, passing through Northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan to China. In an economic point of view the impact would be positive and largely favouring China as the proposed pipeline if implemented would by-pass Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan the existing route for the Turkmenistan gas. This would enable China to integrate and form a new regional energy grid, a strategy for pure Economic Diplomacy. In a strategic stand point, it could have well been a counter strategy move on the part of Beijing to rival the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project backed by the US [16]. But as of today, TAPI remains a distant reality and a comparative analysis would be in vain as far as TAPI acting as a basis for countering China’s interests in the region.

However, interestingly Afghanistan is rich in natural resources and a vast mineral base that provides an opportunity to large scale investors to reap the benefits the country has to offer. Being a point of contact between Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia, Afghanistan is currently the missing link in ensuring a smooth transit of people, trade, energy and goods within the region.  The commercial activities of China over the years have increased within as well as outside the region, branding its own ‘Development Strategy’ engaging in various infrastructure projects. China’s deft diplomacy is playing well, to suit its own interests, balancing the Gulf countries and its other West Asian partners.

One may analyse that China’s pivot towards Central and West Asia is directly correlated to securing its energy and political interests at the same time. Having said that these are subsets of the larger national interest and China is aware of the importance to deny any leverage to its opponents manifested from its vulnerability and thus Afghanistan is viewed ideal for China.

As per the official government estimates over 20 potential structures were identified for oil and natural gas exploration in the Tirpul oil Basin which covers an area approximately about 26,000km2located to the West in the Herat Province.  During the Soviet era, explorations in Afghanistan were minimal in nature and mining activities came to a standstill post-Soviet exit.  According to government records only 7700km of seismic profile had been shot and out of 370 wells which were drilled only 59 were exploration wells indicate mass under-utilization of energy resources in the country.

At the end of 1989, the estimated reserves were at 87 MMBO (Million Barrels of Oil) and 3 TCFG (Trillion Cubic Feet of Gas). However modern and recent assessment by USGS-AGS (Unites States Geological Survey-Afghanistan Geological Survey) revealed large undiscovered petroleum potential. The USGS-AGS estimated 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil, 16 TCFG and 0.5 billion barrels of natural gas liquids with most of the crude oil situated at the Afghan-Tajik Basin and most of the probable natural gas resource in the Amu Darya Basin thus making Afghanistan one of the largest reserves of oil and natural gas reserves in the region if the assessment was to be taken at face value. [17].  .

China was quick on its feet to recognize the opportunity and extended its offer for exploration and sharing of oil and natural gas production. In 2011 an agreement was signed between The Ministry of Mines and CNPC (China National Petroleum Cooperation) International of China for three blocks in the Amu Darya Basin for a period of 25 years and 50-70 percent profits incurred by the firm from the project paid to the government. The Chinese state owned enterprise is the largest integrated energy company in China and was ranked third in the Fortune 500 in 2016 and in 2012 CNPC began its oil extraction. The heavy investment in the region propelled infrastructure projects for connectivity purposes which remain eminent for Afghanistan. The CNPC expressed its interest to compete with other Multi-national organizations for exploration in the Afghan-Tajik Basin that could potentially have the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the region. [18].

China is aware of an opportunity to replicate a trans-national oil and gas pipeline on similar lines of the Central Asian pipeline channelling Afghan oil and gas directly into China creating domestic reserves for crude oil and natural gas since Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure for refinery capacity.  China’s annual oil consumption trajectory is undoubtedly on the upswing and with a forecast of an increased demand for oil in the coming years may put China on the global peripheral ahead of the United States. Domestic capacity as of today is unable to meet the large scale demand. In 2015 the oil imports for the first time exceeded 60% of its total consumption in anticipation of high demand and data suggests that import mechanism is paramount to meet China’s energy demands. [19].

Afghanistan’s untapped energy resources will allow China to become a major partner in exploration and energy trade. This would encourage Chinese domestic enterprise to fuel economic growth, employment and more importantly a step forward in ‘Global Politics’ using the tools of economic and energy diplomacy as a canvas.

Afghanistan is not only viewed as a potential energy partner but also as a link country to West Asia and more importantly as a substitute capable of reducing the reliance on imports through the oceanic routes. Moreover, China and Afghanistan agreed to cooperate on the ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative developing transportation grid for smooth flow of trade, energy and logistics support. China’s effort to build and an alternative trade route for Chinese goods and likewise developing a transit hub in Afghanistan is of great importance and both countries understand the need to address the security concerns is an essential precedence for trans-national trade and commerce. Afghanistan’s increasing interest in the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative is a hopeful gateway to integrate itself into the trans-national infrastructure and trade network furthered China’s ambitions in the region. Moreover, trade is compelling both countries to enhance security measures to protect their trade relations. The northern city of Mazar -e Sharif is considered the commercial and logistics hub of West Asia.  The existing operating cargo and freight services train linking China’s Yiwu and Mazar-e Sharif is an example of China’s trade collaboration with Afghanistan. [20].

Being a landlocked country Afghanistan will aid in negating the constraints and challenges of maritime trade and will vastly favour Chinese interests both economically and politically. Furthermore, Afghanistan might also prove to be China’s highly respected partner in energy resources. China and Afghanistan could induce a comparative advantage model to the bilateral relations that will yield mutual benefits.


The unpredictable security environment in Afghanistan is an acting hindrance to fulfilling the large potential in the Sino-Afghan relations. The implementation of major projects on the ground is seriously threatened and requires multiple approvals from non-state actors such as the Taliban in parts of the country. Chinese firms in recent times have conceded that security environment in Afghanistan is not as conducive for implementation of large scale projects. Parallel governments across the country are active and there are no counter measures undertaken and the present Afghan security apparatus lacks the penetration in neutralizing Anti-State elements.

A Large concentration of NATO troops is deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the epicentre of insurgency and a region of high instability. Out of the 70,000 odd troops, nearly 35,000 troops have been deployed in the southern Afghanistan and Kabul region. That leaves northern, eastern and western Afghanistan with a limited number of troops along with the Afghan forces thus leaving major Chinese infrastructure present in these regions vulnerable. [21]

President Obama promised a withdrawal of US troops in multiple phases from Afghanistan in 2014 that made many Chinese investors lose confidence in the war torn country. Although the Afghan government on the sidelines promised high security to foreign investments the security apparatus in Afghanistan is considerably weak fighting insurgent activities. But the new administration under President Trump favoured deployment of additional troops in the view of the national security interests of the United States. [22]. However, in the short run, this may aid China’s commercial interests but it should be noted that in all possibility a complete withdrawal of NATO forces seems increasingly realistic with changing equations between the US and its NATO allies.

The war in Afghanistan has claimed over 29,000 civilian lives since the onset of the counter insurgency operations in the country. High civilian casualties led to outrage among the public making room for anti-western and anti-development movements sympathizing with Taliban aggression. Counter insurgency operations in Afghanistan are mainly carried out in places with high militant influence and breaking the Taliban nexus resulted in higher casualties of both civilian and militant.

Possible reasons for public sympathy for the Taliban in these areas is a result of poor compensation and distribution for land acquisition by foreign firms, biased employment opportunities and the potential for extortion money are very high. The Afghan government in a bid to protect infra projects failed to address local conflicts with international firms. However pan Afghanistan surveys indicated enormous support to anti-insurgency operations and foreign investment in the country.

Security hotspot mapping analysis of Afghanistan provides insight into the domestic environment and the socio-political equations in Afghanistan. Proxy terrorist and militant organizations carry heavy influence in different parts of the country. The composition of militant groups in Afghanistan varies from ethnicity to infiltrated groups. These groups have inclinations and self-interests. Therefore engaging in Afghanistan is predominantly very sensitive and dangerous.

The northern part of the country holds the Amu Darya basin and towards the east, the Afghan-Tajik basin, the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the region. China’s investments here are at huge risk from the high Taliban influence in the surrounding areas. There were reports of CNPC officials from the Amu Darya Basin being threatened by local war lords enjoying Taliban patronage demanding a share of the firm’s proceeds. While the Afghan government promised security the scepticism among the investors was a cause of concern. [23]

In addition, large Iron ore deposits along the Herat region attracted many Chinese firms. The growing demand coupled with China’s prowess in steel manufacturing will assist both countries. The raw material sourced for production purposes and the corresponding investment on large mining projects will generate employment opportunities for Afghans in the region and also aid in the acceleration of Trans-National infrastructure. This will assist in the development of the surrounding corridors and other trade links increasing the capacity for road and rail connectivity. However trans-national projects are linked to high-security risks. China’s reliance on Afghan security might be viewed overly optimistic, but a future Sino-Afghan agreement for mutual security assistance and trans-national military engagement can never be ruled out since Beijing in the past expressed its interest of a larger role in Afghanistan.

Apart from oil and natural gas exploration investments, China is fast seizing a substantial share of mineral resources in Afghanistan, the Aynak copper field situated in the Logar province in Central-Eastern Afghanistan became the largest ever Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country with China Metallurgical Group Corp., Jiangxi Copper Corporation and Zijin mining Group secured a joint bid worth $3.5 billion meant to develop what is known to be the largest copper field in the world. [24]. But Taliban insurgency, mob conflicts and large scale corruption are dismantling foreign infrastructure. Displacement of the local population for the development of the mining field resulted in violence which increased the risk for operationalizing the mining activities in the Logar region. However back channel talks with the Taliban largely against the wishes of the Afghan government ensured the commencement of the project. Reports suggested as many as 1500 Afghan troops stationed near the mining project to deter any violence threatening the mining activities. [25]. But, China’s engagement with the Taliban to ensure the safety of Chinese investments might prove counter-productive for the Sino-Afghan relationship.

China’s security perspective of Afghanistan coincides with its own internal security. China recognizes a stable Afghanistan is crucial to China’s efforts in containing cross border terrorism inflicted in its own territory. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is a militant based Uyghur separatist organization mainly responsible for the attacks in China’s Xinjiang province and other parts of the country.

The militant organization docked in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan during the late 1990’s and has since then coordinated many terror attacks. PRC’s diplomatic efforts ensured the ETIM and other subsidiary organizations be designated as terror outfits acknowledge by The United Nations and the US State Department. [26].The concentration of the Uighur terrorists and the working network of the ETIM from neighbouring countries is a threat to security and stability of the region. However active members of the ETIM reportedly formed alliances with terror organizations working in Syria. The Chinese government analysed the threat to its national security and since then China has urged diplomatic cooperation among the neighbouring countries to combat terror.

Considerable presence of ETIM operatives in Afghanistan pushed for the extermination of the terror outfit to the overall agenda of the Sino-Afghan relations. The inclusion of Afghanistan as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation signalled deeper strategic cooperation between the two countries with changing geopolitical landscape.


China’s direct military engagement in Afghanistan is a distant reality. However, it is only fair to analyse China’s medium and long term intentions and strategies at play. Certain recent developments expressed China’s intentions of a larger role in Afghanistan.

Last year China delivered its first batch of military equipment to Afghanistan reiterating its support to the Afghan government’s efforts in fighting terrorism. The Chinese consignment included logistical support, ammunition and parts for military vehicles for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). [27].

In a statement, Chinese ambassador Yao Jing regarded Afghanistan as a close and important neighbour and while commenting on the military assistance Jing said, “This is the beginning of the regular military-to-military exchanges and cooperation”. In addition, reports indicating the presence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Afghanistan as part of joint military drills only emphasizes on the increasing military collaboration between the two countries, although both the Afghan and Chinese governments denied any such activities. [28].

China’s immediate concern is a policy framework for stability in the region and all round cooperation from the concerned parties. Beijing recently hosted an Afghan Taliban delegation to ‘stabilize’ the situation in Afghanistan. China believes the inclusion of the Taliban in Afghanistan peace process will suit regional security and cooperation. [29]. But terrorism is a global threat and Afghanistan would essentially not want any de-hyphenation of terrorist groups. China should also realize engaging with the Taliban on the sidelines is against the interests of the Afghan government. The aim of the Afghan government is to eradicate the Taliban completely and China’s efforts to build consensus would only be counter-productive. It is important for China to analyse Afghanistan’s perspective of building democratic institutions in the country.

The ‘Kabul Process’ agreed on the eradication of terror funding from narcotics trade and dismantling sanctuaries for designated terrorists is paramount. However, the presence of the Haqqani network in Pakistan and its nexus with the State’s intelligence wing, the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) is disrupting the peace process in Afghanistan. The building tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan also worried China to some extent and its decision to move cautiously over the issue is not benefitting. Furthermore, Kabul would want Beijing to pressure Islamabad to disassociate itself with terrorist organizations. However while doing so China wouldn’t want to alienate Pakistan as it believes that would only escalate the existing tensions, but more importantly to safeguard China’s strategic investments in Pakistan.

Interestingly China decided to broker peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan to ease the tensions. [30]. Beijing decided to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in a bid to promote cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A trilateral cooperation would no doubt benefit the region but also help advance China’s regional ambitions. But China’s security engagement at this point in time is limited.


India realizes a stable Afghanistan is paramount. India’s effort in the rebuilding process of the country aims to secure a stable and progressive Afghanistan and represents itself as a pro active partner.

Indian economic aid to Afghanistan since 2001 amounts to more than US$ 2 billion which is the largest regional contribution. Indian investments in Afghanistan span over various spheres making it the most important partner in the Afghan rebuilding process. The India-Afghan Friendship dam capable of irrigating millions of Afghan farms and the reconstruction of the $700 million Afghan Parliament are examples of India’s efforts in capacity building.

However, India is steadily losing ground in Afghanistan due to its reluctance in addressing Afghanistan’s security requirements. Although India signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) to train and provide assistance for military requirements of the ANDSF, India’s hesitance is hurting Afghanistan. For example, India agreed to deliver the MI 25 attack helicopters to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) in phases as part of its military assistance to Afghanistan. But bureaucratic mishandling led to the delay in delivering these combat helicopters even after multiple requests made by Afghan officials. The ‘Heart of Asia’ conference that concluded last year in Amritsar, India reiterated the need and urged India to increase its military assistance to Afghanistan. [31]. However, India’s cautious approach in Afghanistan to ease Pakistan’s anxiety hasn’t yielded positive results.

More importantly, India must avoid its isolation in the ‘Afghan Peace Process’ at all cost. China and Pakistan believe in engaging the Taliban at the cost Afghanistan’s interests while isolating India at the same time. Lack of a global perspective is hurting India’s interests in its neighbourhood and that reflects well in its foreign policy. For example, the 2015 Quadrilateral meeting comprising China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States concluded on enhancing security cooperation leaving India out. [32]. India must adopt a more robust and pragmatic approach to its foreign policy to secure its national interests.

In the author’s opinion a Trilateral dialogue between the US, China and India on single point agenda to combat terrorism will largely contribute to securing regional stability. A policy framework for counter-terrorism cooperation, intelligence exchange and measures to freeze terror funding is in common interest and hence negating any conflicts. The aim must be to secure a stable and a progressive Afghanistan in the interest of the region as well as the world. Terrorism is a global threat and conscious efforts must be made in eradicating the same.


  1. Dai, Shen-Yu, “China and Afghanistan,” Jstor 9 (1966): 213, accessed May 09, 2017,

  2. Ibid, 214.

  3. “China and Afghanistan Sign Treaty,” The Advocate, March 06, 1944, accessed May 09, 2017,

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[Adithya Krishna is an Intern, C3S. He has completed B.A ( Economics, Political Science, Sociology)  at Christ University, Bengaluru in 2017. He has carried out research on identified issues on China under the guidance of the members of C3S. The views expressed in this article however are of the author. He can be reached at]

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