It looks like China is poised to cash in again on Afghanistan, despite having never fired a shot in anger there. This week, Beijing got a step closer to developing natural gas fields in northwest Afghanistan after signing three agreements with Kabul covering economic cooperation, training and trade. If you’ll recall, China won a major deal in 2007 to develop the Aynak copper mine outside Kabul – one of the world’s largest. Work on the $3 billion project has reportedly gone slower than expected due to deteriorating security, leading some observers to conclude that Beijing may be reluctant to significantly increase investment in Afghanistan. But if this week’s agreements are anything to go by, China will continue to do very well for itself in Afghanistan without having sacrificed a thing. It’s outrageous to think that Britain, the United States and other countries have squandered vast amounts of blood and treasure trying to secure Afghanistan only to help Beijing secure its future natural resources needs. Beijing has much to gain from a peaceful Afghanistan including stemming the threat from militant Muslim separatists within its own borders. But it doesn’t have to commit military resources to stabilizing the country – not when it can sit back and watch the NATO-led coalition do all the hard work.
Beijing also seems reluctant to expend political capital to help bring about a diplomatic solution to the Afghan quagmire. China has huge influence with Pakistan – its biggest Muslim ally. Not only does it sell arms to Islamabad; it has invested billions in developing energy routes through Pakistan including highways and a port in Gwadar in Baluchistan province. China could strong arm Pakistan whenever it likes – but it hasn’t and odds are it won’t because it doesn’t have to.
So what should the Coalition do? Should it continue to watch its troops die and pour billions of dollars into Afghanistan only to leave the spoils to China? I personally would like to see Britain wise up. Too many British soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan already. Our defense budget is under siege and our future security is being compromised to pay for the campaign in Afghanistan. It is madness to make Britain weaker only to make China stronger. It’s time to show a little more self-interest and bring our troops home. As China is proving, the only way to win in Afghanistan is to be selfish.