China Eyes Outsize Role in Afghanistan as Mullah Baradar Set to Form Taliban Government

Even as the new Taliban-led government is being formed in Afghanistan, there have been rising concerns that China is close to exerting outsize influence in the country.

Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will lead the new Afghan government, reports said on Friday. Baradar will be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar. Another key figure in the government that takes after the Iranian dispensation will be Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, IANS reported, citing sources.

Taliban fighters
Taliban Fighters Wikimedia Commons

Control of Bagram Air Base

Meanwhile other reports said Beijing is eyeing to take control of Afghanistan's air bases, including the Bagram air force base.

Former Indian diplomat Anil Trigunayat said the recent interview by Taliban's spokesperson clearly said China would be their most important partner under the new Taliban-led Afghan government.

"China is trying to fill the vacuum created after the US forces left Afghanistan economically and get its Belt and Road (BRI) initiatives going. That is going to happen soon as the Taliban needs somebody to manage the air bases there," said Trigunayat, the report said.

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Bagram Air Base
Afghan Army after taking control of Bagram Air Base YouTube Grab

The Bagram airport is the biggest airport and technically well equipped as the Americans kept it for their use till the end instead of the Kabul airport.

Both China and the Taliban under the new strategic partnership will likely jointly manage the Bagram airbase as China needs to have a secure airbase when they will increase its economic plans in Afghanistan.

China's Economic Interests

West Asia expert Qamar Agha also agrees that China has been mulling for a bigger role in Afghanistan because of its economic interests and with the huge investment plans they aim to control a factionalized government, which will be formed on Friday.

"China has always supported Pakistan for arms, military equipment and has been providing the financial aid to Pakistan and now apprehensions are that it will push Pakistan to engage into a proxy war against India so that it will not face any challenge near the China sea and adjoining areas," Agha said.

The former US diplomat to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Thursday warned that the US needs to closely watch China as it might try to take over the Bagram air force base in Afghanistan following the Taliban's takeover of the war-torn country and use Pakistan to get stronger to go against India.

Fierce Fight in Panjshir

Meanwhile, The Taliban are battling rebel fighters in the Panjshir Valley and are striving to ward off economic collapse, Tolo News reported.

Baradar, who heads the Taliban's political office, will be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai in senior positions, three sources said, the report added.

Ahmad Massoud
Ahmad Massoud said that he and his supporters wanted a peaceful solution and were ready to negotiate an inclusive government with the Taliban

"All the top leaders have arrived in Kabul, where preparations are in final stages to announce the new government," one Taliban official told a global news wire.

Haibatullah Akhunzada, the Taliban's surpreme religious leader, will focus on religious matters and governance within the framework of Islam, another Taliban source said.

The Taliban, which seized Kabul on August 15 after sweeping across most of the country, have faced resistance in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital, with reports of heavy fighting and casualties.

Several thousand fighters of regional militias and remnants of the government's armed forces have massed in the rugged valley under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, the son of former Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Efforts to negotiate a settlement appear to have broken down, with each side blaming the other for the failure.

The government's legitimacy in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial for an economy grappling with drought and the ravages of a conflict that killed an estimated 240,000 Afghans, Tolo News said.

(With Inputs From IANS)