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Growing Pak-Afghan Conflict

Growing Pak-Afghan Conflict

Dr. Muahammad Akram Zaheer

The recent escalation of terrorist activities aimed at critical infrastructure and development ventures associated with the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) within Pakistan has plunged the nascent government into a precarious predicament. Already grappling with daunting economic woes and a deteriorating security environment, the Islamabad administration now confronts heightened apprehensions. Pakistan has borne the brunt of five major assaults, three of which specifically targeted Chinese ventures. The most recent incident claimed the lives of five Chinese engineers engaged in the Dasu hydropower project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a venture managed by the Power Construction Corporation of China which is also engaged in other pivotal hydroelectric schemes across Pakistan. In response to these assaults, Chinese enterprises have halted operations, precipitating substantial economic repercussions for Pakistan, including the displacement of approximately 2000 laborers from these project sites.

Amidst the momentum of advancing the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with a focus on establishing special economic zones (SEZs) in Pakistan, recent assaults on Chinese interests have raised concerns. Against the backdrop of these attacks, the Pakistani leadership, both civilian and military, has reaffirmed their commitment to safeguarding Chinese nationals and CPEC initiatives, highlighting the perceived threat posed by external forces intent on undermining the strategic partnership between Pakistan and China. While suspicions have been cast on groups allegedly backed by the Indian intelligence agency R&AW for previous assaults, no specific entity has claimed responsibility for the recent incidents involving Chinese engineers. Despite initial finger-pointing towards Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the group has disassociated itself from such actions, a move likely driven by the risk of damaging the TTP’s ties with the Afghan Taliban, who maintain a significant relationship with China.

China and Pakistan have collaboratively established an investigation team dedicated to scrutinizing recent attacks. In an effort to bolster Pakistan’s anti-terrorism endeavors, China might consider expanding its investments to aid the financially strained Pakistani military in its costly counterterrorism operations. While previous attempts by Chinese authorities to establish security firms in Pakistan were politely declined, Beijing, perceiving the terrorism threat potentially surpassing Pakistan’s capacity, may propose deploying Chinese security forces or establishing military bases within the country. Such a move would signify Pakistan’s acknowledgment of its limitations in combating domestic terrorism and would challenge the military’s self-proclaimed role as the nation’s primary defender. Additionally, the deployment of Chinese forces in Pakistan would significantly impact its relations with the United States and raise concerns in New Delhi regarding Chinese influence in South Asia. Complicating matters further are Pakistan’s initial findings suggesting that terrorists in recent attacks on Chinese national’s utilized weaponry sourced from the United States via Afghanistan.

Pakistan has long voiced concerns about bearing the brunt of heightened terrorism resulting from the flawed withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. In recent times, the Pakistani civil-military establishment has subtly suggested that unless the United States intensifies its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, Pakistan may increasingly turn to China for support. This plea from Islamabad seems to have resonated in Washington, as evidenced by an unprecedented gesture: President Joe Biden personally reached out to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif through a letter, underscoring America’s enduring commitment to collaboration with Pakistan. While this unexpected communication from the Biden administration serves to reaffirm the existing support from the US to Pakistan, it also carries a nuanced message, cautioning against the Pakistan Army’s potential inclination to involve Chinese military presence in the region.

The assessment of the terrorism situation in Pakistan, potentially surpassing the capacity of its military to handle, raises significant geopolitical concerns, particularly for Beijing, which has vested interests in regional stability. In response to this, there’s a possibility that China may reconsider its previous offer to deploy security forces or establish military bases within Pakistan. Such a move would undoubtedly have far-reaching implications, not only for the security dynamics of the region but also for the broader geopolitical landscape. Both Washington and New Delhi would likely view this prospect with unease, given their respective strategic interests in the region. For Washington, the presence of Chinese military forces in Pakistan could further complicate its already complex relationship with Beijing, raising concerns about Chinese influence in South Asia. Similarly, for New Delhi, Chinese military presence in Pakistan would exacerbate existing tensions and potentially shift the balance of power in the region, posing a direct challenge to Indian interests. Consequently, the prospect of Chinese intervention in Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts represents a delicate and potentially destabilizing development that all major stakeholders would prefer to avoid.






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