The Taliban Dilemma and Thucydides Trap

Graham Allison’s coined term Thucydides Trap referring to Chinese rise against the established hegemon United States gained popularity among scholars of International Politics. The Peloponnesian War, which was written by the prominent Historian Thucydides where Sparta was in a situation of fear from the growing power of Athenians. In this scenario, there is something unexpected occurs in the contemporary case of the Sino-US rivalry on Kabul’s fall and the defeat of the U.S. Now, the question for Allison’s hypothesis is whether there is any paradigm of Taliban for an inevitable war?

When a rising power confronts a dominant one throughout history, war is almost always the result. There are, however, important exceptions. A clash between the United States and China is no more inevitable today than it was a century ago between the rising United States and the collapsing United Kingdom. There are compelling reasons to assume that a war between the United States and China can be averted in today’s context.

Before moving ahead to the implications for avoiding the war, we need to have an analysis of the situation in the region and the Taliban Dilemma. As the Taliban gains power, their main concern was nation-building and they expect China to be the key stakeholder for Afghanistan’s rebuilding. It is no secret that China also wanted the same, for it has three major concerns, to counter the US threat, the Xinjiang dilemma and the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) projects to run without any insurrectionary threat. From the perspective of Scholars of International Political Economy, the case of the Chinese laid BRI resembles that of Bismarck’s imperial Germany and their strategy of the nineteenth century. Since the scholars argue that the BRI cannot be affected by the hegemonic rivalry but by the regional phenomenon like; insurgencies. Coming back to the point, what we see here is that China has got the opportunity to associate with the Taliban for its own gains and so does it benefit the Taliban to show their diplomatic passages.

At this moment, we can assume that Beijing will have a two-pronged engagement with the Taliban. First and foremost, it will be commercial. China will try to resurrect Afghan commercial operations, which the Taliban are likely to support because the investment will bring in much-needed funds. The Afghan economy is unstable, and it is heavily reliant on foreign money from Western donors, which would almost definitely be stopped off. So, any investment, particularly if it is not backed by human rights speeches, will be welcomed. Second, the partnership will be based on neither party intervening in the affairs of the other. For Beijing, this means the Taliban will be unable to spread extremism in China’s volatile Xinjiang region, which shares a small border with Afghanistan or protest Chinese government crimes against Uyghur Muslims in the region. For the Taliban, this means that unless Chinese individuals are engaged, China will not question the group’s human rights violations. In this state, one can say that for Taliban’s dilemma both pose an opportunity and threat to China in the long run. The United States and other countries will be watching China’s actions in Afghanistan intently.

For the United States and those countries watching engagement in Afghanistan, Pakistan is also on the list for its interaction with the new government in Afghanistan. Since there are protests by the Afghan individuals that there is the involvement of the Pakistani establishment in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. On the state level, both governing bodies clarified their interaction. If there is a question, what interests do Pakistan has in Afghanistan at this moment? Then certainly, there are certain things that Pakistan considers its engagement with Kabul is crucial. That could be the threat from the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), infiltration of extremist/insurgent groups, and weakening of the influence of rival states. If there is any interference of Pakistan in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, then the consequences for Pakistan can lead to unrest in the country, not sooner but with time things might get worse.

Experts warn the “all-weather allies” of long-term losses, especially a blowback effect from the US, which may turn its ire on Beijing and Islamabad to avenge its Afghan imbroglio, as China and Pakistan consider a joint strategy to push for global recognition of the Taliban regime in war-torn Afghanistan to further their interests.

In this regard, we see that the Taliban Dilemma has opened a new chapter for scholars to apply theories to foresee the rivalry of established and rising power. Whether the Thucydides Trap is inevitable? Or is it going to take a peaceful transition?

To this level, my study and analysis suggest that the Taliban will not let themselves get used against any state but for the United States enemy will not be considered weak. If there is any sort of strategic move by the U.S. then the chances for the Taliban are to completely form a Block with China and its allies. Since China’s past shows that it has never been aggressive to any state, but to this stage, those instances are not enough for the world’s second-largest economy to remain calm if war is on its head. To avoid a warlike situation what both powers need is to avoid using proxy wars, as it was during Cold War and World War II. In terms of armaments, either side has the world’s most powerful and advanced technology and their war can be a nuclear one in its early stages. For China, getting involved in any sort of head-to-head fight could be really harmful, for China is not that much well equipped like the United States have military power for decades. In this situation, all it needs is to use diplomatic channels to sort out all the miss happenings. Economical and Cyber Mischief dimensions are also significant, thus playing with all these issues through proper means will be useful rather falling into a direct war. Though, in many ways, the United States and China are doomed to clash. A direct, interstate war, on the other hand, does not have to be one of them.

Dilbar Hussain Magsi
Dilbar Hussain Magsi
MS in International Relations, from Jilin University, China. I am a content creator, freelancer, and write op-ed for national and international newspapers. I can be reached at dilberpak700[at]