The implications of U.S.-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan to China

Authors: Zamira Sadykova and Wang Li

After 20-year attrition war in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden made the call to end the longest war of the United States in its history, indicating to bring U.S. forces home from the remote foreign land. Soon afterward, NATO also agreed to the withdrawal of its mission from Afghanistan. As a senior official told media, NATO Allies has actually decided in mid-April to start the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission forces by May. So far there are 9,600-strong mission, whose personnel from 36 alliance member nations and partner countries, in Afghanistan. Accordingly, it becomes necessary for the withdrawal to be an orderly, coordinated, and deliberate process.

There is no question that Taliban forces have the capabilities to launch any attacks on the U.S.-led allied forces. Given this, the safety of the NATO troops will be a top priority every step of the way, and they have to take all necessary measures to keep their personnel from harm. As early as the Biden administration started this year, people have expected the final decision of withdrawal of the allied troops from Afghanistan. But it was delayed by several months prior to the deadline agreed by Donald Trump as he was afraid that it could allow the Taliban to regain power in the war-torn country.

It is quite interesting that President Biden said the US withdrawal would be completed by September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America that sparked its military involvement in Afghanistan. The US has said it is temporarily deploying extra troops to protect the allied forces as they withdraw and has prolonged the presence of an aircraft carrier in the region to support the pull-out. Give that the U.S. has the decisive leverage in the NATO, its member states would likely join the U.S. in withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan this September. As German Defense Minister said recently, the allies will go in together and then leave together. As a matter of fact, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken revealed at the NATO working meeting that “according to the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together.”

As it is well-known that the September 11, 2001 attacks were staged by members of terror group Al-Qaeda, who forcefully hijacked four airplanes and crashed three of them into New York and Washington, leaving nearly 3,000 people dead and others missing. Then due to refusal of handing over Osama Bin Laden who was the head of the terror group and quickly identified as the man responsible for the attacks, the George W. Bush administration quickly invaded Afghanistan, marking the start of the Afghanistan war against the Taliban. Since then, the U.S. has made deadly efforts to wipe out the Taliban forces, but it has proved a highly cost warsince it has lasted 20 years with 3,000 soldiers dead. The Pentagon said there are roughly 2,500 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, but the media exposed the number not including 1,000 more U.S. special forces in the country. In addition, about 7,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan rely on U.S. logistics and security support.

It is true that the U.S. military performed decisively including the joint deployment of U.S. and NATO forces, which marked the first and only time the alliance invoked Article 5, as it states that an armed attack against one or more allies in Europe or North America is considered an attack against all. Yet the U.S. peace initiative has not worked smoothly. In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement that called for a full withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan by May 2021 on the conditions that the Taliban meets the key terms of the deal, including severing ties with terrorist groups. However, the disclosure of the plan came at the same time that the U.S. intelligence agencies released a gloomy outlook for Afghanistan, forecasting a gloomy scenario of a peace deal in 2021 and warning that the Afghan government in Kabul has to struggle to hold the Taliban forces at bay when the U.S.-led allies withdraws from the country. On April 24, Mohammad Naeem who is spokesman for the Taliban political office in Turkey said publicly that “until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, the Taliban regime would not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan.”

Given this, Afghanistan President Ghani recently held talks with U.S. President Biden online regarding Washington’s plan to withdraw all its troops from the Middle East generally and Afghanistan particularly. As a result, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan agreed to respect the U.S. decision and the two sides vowed to work together along with other allies and partners to ensure a smooth transition. Even though, there is still deep concern that if Afghanistan’s security and military forces would be able fully to secure its people and country, which has been nearly ruined by the U.S.-led war and the previous anti-Soviet occupation war throughout the past four decades.

Geopolitically, it is self-evident that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan sooner or later will be sure to benefit China’s security and its strategic ambition such as the “Belt & Road Initiative” for several reasons. First, in light of China’s “NEWS” strategic approach, an independent, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, which borders the vast western China, will insure its strategic links with the Central Asia, the Middle East and then Eurasia since they all go through Afghanistan. Second, as long as its link with the Eurasian countries is secure, China would be able to maintain almost all kinds of energies supply to its economic needs. Meanwhile, Chinese leaders are able effectively to deal with the issues involving other sides of China and other more urgent issues inside and outside the country. Third, as long as China maintains a stable and equal relations with the countries of Eurasia including Afghanistan, its huge low-priced and high-quality goods would go to those markets mentioned above. To these ends, China also needs to work closely with the countries of Eurasia, all member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Russia, Pakistan and Iran particularly.

Although both China and Russia have entertained no intents to replace the United States in the world affairs, there is little doubt that U.S. have firmly seen both Eurasian powers as the strategic rivals and tended to contain them. Due to this, Russia and China have vowed to expand their relations in an overall range including political, economic, energy, military and logistical connectivity areas. As the only power which has certain military deterrence against the United States, Russia is evidently needed by China when it has dedicated to its remarkable economics. Moreover, Russia, Pakistan and Iran can provide all necessary and strategic coordination with China in dealing with the complicated domestic issues of Afghanistan.

In sum, this paper argues that after the U.S.-led allied forces withdraw from Afghanistan, China should be cautiously optimistic in creating a new strategy to insure its geopolitical and long-term economic gaols. All these need strategic partnerships with Russia, Pakistan and Iran for necessary political and psychological support in the face of an unrestrained and hostile United States and its global alliances system.

Zamira Sadykova
Zamira Sadykova
Zamira Sadykova is a PhD student in the field of International Relations at SIPA, Jilin University