The American war in Afghanistan is coming to an end. Americans call it the war on terror, but there are many scholars and experts, who disagree with the US. They argue that there are strong economic and political motivations which have been camouflaged under the name of terrorism.
On the economic side, oil, rare earth metals and transit route for connectivity of Central Asia and South Asia are the most important areas of interest for US and Western countries. French writers Jean-Charles Brisard and G Dasquie tried to tag the war with oil resources. They thought that the war on terror was actually an attempt to control oil and gas trade from Central Asia. These writers further claimed that Bush administration was facilitating the Taliban by hindering any investigation against them. It was done to facilitate the smooth negotiation between Taliban and oil companies of US. UNOCAL was one of the companies, which negotiated hard to lay down the two pipelines through Afghanistan. It was dubbed as guarantor of peace in Afghanistan and the region. For that purpose, US officials also met Taliban leaders in Islamabad and Washington just before 9/11. Media in US has pointed out that Biden administration is talking about TAPI as a new pipeline to engage Taliban.
However, in recent times, rare earth metals have been emerged as a new area of interest for US and allies. Rare earth metals are critical ingredients of new technologies like lithium batteries, computer chips that power disruptive technologies, laptops and mobile devices to GPS systems, precision-guided weapons, drones, satellites, stealth aircraft, and hypersonic weapons etc. US is relying on imported rare earth metals and China holds 35 percent of proven resources of rare earth metals. China is also the biggest exporter and in 2018 China’s share in US import of rare earth metal was 80 percent. US wants to lower the dependence on China and resources in Afghanistan present them such an opportunity. It is a proven fact that Afghanistan holds US$ 1 trillion resources of rare earth metals.
In recent days, another major development has happened. Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan have agreed to signed transit agreement to link Central Asia with the world. There are also reports that US also wants to join the initiative. Now we will have to wait to get the point of view of Taliban about the agreement.
On the strategic front, there are areas which need special attention and analysis. First, the withdrawal of US forces may be an effort to create chaos in the region. The world has already witnessed that the US withdrawal from Iraq without any conclusion, led to chaos in the region. The chaos will destabilize the region and create many problems for China, which is the desired goal of US and its allies.
Second, the withdrawal of US from Afghanistan may be the end of the war on terror, but it may be start of a new Great Game. The US is trying to do everything and anything to contain China; President Obama launched his policy Pivot to Asia policy to achieve the objective. The Trump administration expanded the scope and came up with the policy of Free Navigation in Indo-Pacific: there is no Indo-Pacific but still US insists on it. President Biden, who has first-hand experience of Pivot to Asia and wants to contain China, has further expanded the list of policies and actions to contain China. He is working on the concepts of democracy, human rights etc., which can be deployed to contain China. It is pertinent to mention here that containing China enjoys widespread consensus among the divided American society and politicians. Thus, the withdrawal of forces may be an effort to change the tools and come up with economic alternatives to contain China.
Third, building on the above point, US will try to exploit the situation to forward its program Build Back Better World (B3W). B3W will be presented as an alternative to BRI and to lure countries to quit BRI. Central Asian States and South Asian countries have already been identified as potential candidates. It is assumed that US will encourage India to act as a proxy to promote B3W in the region. Thus, it will be an effort to replace “military alliance” with “economic alliance” in the region. US will also ask Pakistan to join the alliance; Pakistan is already facing immense pressure from US and allies to leave CPEC.
In this context, China and Pakistan will have to analyse where does CPEC stand? The situation requires China and Pakistan to analyse the situation in the light of these facts and to apply tools of strategic foresight. Since the inception of CPEC, Pakistan always talks about the expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan.
CPEC expansion will open new doors of opportunities and economic development for Afghanistan. It will help Afghanistan to; 1) generate financial revenue, 2) create livelihood opportunities and 3) linkages in global economic system. It will also be helpful to attain the goal of sustainable peace. However, for the expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan Pakistan and China will have to chalk out a plan of action by keeping in mind the realities, facts and strategic possibilities and options discussed above. It will be helpful to devise the policy according to the need.
The writer is a political economist.