I wrote an article about China’s strategic and economic engagement in Afghanistan. You can read it here on page 5 of this PDF. That’s my Centre on the front page and those are my new best friends standing in front of the Centre. You may also want to read the articles in the Bulletin about micro-societies and the state in Afghanistan by Amin Saikal and about Russian-Chinese security cooperation in Central Asia by Kirill Nourzhanov. As a disclaimer, both of them are are my dissertation committee.
“China’s Entry into Central Asia’s Southern Tier” by Christian Bleuer
Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies Bulletin, Vol. 15, No.1 (2008) Download PDF.
Here’s the intro:
Over the past few years Chinese interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia have steadily increased. While China’s push to secure energy resources in the region, especially with regards to Kazakhstan, has been given much attention, its efforts in the southern tier have only become highly visible recently. The recent $3 billion winning bid by the China Metallurgical Group Corporation to develop the Aynak copper deposits in Afghanistan and the Chinese-financed expansion of the port of Gwadar in Pakistani Baluchistan are the most obvious examples of China’s recent economic expansion into Central Asia from the south. However, the potential rewards for Chinese investment may be exaggerated. Though probably not to the same degree as the earlier hype over the Caspian Sea basin’s potential energy reserves has proven to be. And the risks to Chinese long term investments due to the chronic instability in Afghanistan, although very real, are also likely being exaggerated.
Aynak Photo: There’s copper in them thar hills.
And here’s an excerpt:
An obvious obstacle to China’s entry into Central Asia via the southern approach is the security environment. China has, with the investments in Gwadar and Aynak, expressed its further confidence in the government of Pakistan and the ongoing American-led efforts in Afghanistan. It has not, however, put too much confidence in future security in the region. This is just one part of China’s many diverse investments and relationships throughout the world. And China was not the only bidder for the Aynak deposit, and in fact not even the highest bidder. Other companies from Canada, the US and the UK also tendered bids, showing that other corporations foresee a reasonable risk environment. Speculation as to why the Chinese firm was awarded the bid mostly centres on Afghanistan’s desire to diversify its international friendships and specifically to engage with a partner that arguably has the most influence with the government of Pakistan. Pakistan values its relationship with China to the highest degree and perhaps, speculation goes, China may bring in significant transportation, industrial and resource extraction infrastructure that will not be attacked by the Taliban. Though this theory may give too much credence to the idea that the current government of Pakistan can actually control the Taliban, or even what is loosely referred to as the “neo-Taliban,” a “group” with many diverse agendas and with loosely affiliated members operating at various levels of independence from the Pakistani-based and supported/tolerated Taliban.
Map: The Chinese financed port of Gwadar is at the bottom left in Pakistani Baluchistan and the Aynak mine is just southwest of Kabul.
And some speculation:
The Pakistan-China relationship brings up another possibility: could Chinese investments in Afghanistan survive the disintegration of the current international intervention in Afghanistan? Would a Taliban takeover of the Pashtun-dominated area around the Aynak mine and southwards to Baluchistan include the preservation of China’s economic deals? Whoever may potentially take control of the area around Aynak in the future, be they Pakistani-supported or merely a local strongman, would likely have China and Pakistan as the only countries willing to do business here. But beyond this being conjecture, China would probably much rather do business with a stable western-backed Afghan government than with any potential obscurantist Islamist militia or unpredictable local commander that could possibly come to power in Afghanistan’s Pashtun-dominated southeast.
Pic: Welcome to Aynak:
And who will provide the security for the mine and the facilities? The ANA? The ANP? Coalition forces? A private security firm? Local tough guys? A combination of the preceding? I’m sure “they” have a plan for security.
Download the PDF and read the whole thing.