The promise, the threats and the haggling have begun.

Americans and Europeans have packed their arms and left, and ministers and diplomats from neighboring countries are now struggling to expand their influence in Afghanistan.

America's Secretary of State Antony Blinken is using his inaugural visit to New Delhi to counter Beijing's advance there.

With Afghanistan in the west of India and Myanmar in its east, there are currently two great unknowns in the Indian Ocean who could be geo-economically interesting partners.

Christoph Hein

Business correspondent for South Asia / Pacific based in Singapore.

  • Follow I follow

Afghanistan is feared as the world's largest producer of opium.

The business with an estimated 600 tons of heroin contributes around 11 percent to economic output - the Taliban also finance themselves from it.

Most of the conflicts in Afghanistan have revolved around land ownership and water, the United Nations explains.

But precious metals, uranium, gas and oil are stored underground for at least 3 trillion dollars.

China is mining copper and oil in Afghanistan.

A road through the Pamir Mountains is supposed to secure the transport.

Beijing is ahead in the struggle for influence.

China established its relations with the Taliban as early as the 1990s.

Now its dependent partner, Pakistan, is urged to work together to ensure peace and order in Afghanistan.

This is also possible because it is stabilizing Pakistan with billions of dollars as part of the New Silk Road (BRI).

After a conference with his Afghan and Pakistani colleagues, Foreign Minister Wang Yi has just promised to expand BRI to Afghanistan in the future.

Beijing would like to connect the country to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which it pulls up with more than 50 billion dollars.

More room for China's expansion

The withdrawal of the Americans from Afghanistan holds the chance that "the people there will really take their own fate into their own hands," said Wang. Everyone knows each other: In the summer of 2019, the deputy leader of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited Beijing. The group has just described China as "a friendly country that we welcome for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan". Investors are not at risk. “In private, Chinese politicians cannot be unhappy about the withdrawal of a defeated America. It opens up more space for China's expansionism, ”says Indian geostrategist Brahma Chellaney.

Beijing is not bothered by contradictions. It is true that it fights Islam with great brutality in its Xinjiang province. At the same time, its engineers and workers in Pakistan are victims of attacks by the Islamic Balochistan Liberation Army and the militias of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But there is no getting around the Taliban; the pragmatists in Beijing regard them as the lesser evil. China needs them and the Pakistani army to keep Muslim resistance in check against its influence.

Beijing's urge to expand in the vacuum of Afghanistan left behind by the West is being observed very closely in New Delhi. India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar set off a veritable firework of diplomacy in recent weeks to prevent Afghanistan from sliding further into China's sphere of influence. He knows very well that India's West threatens to slip away from the government, weakened by economic challenges and the Corona catastrophe, in the strategic game of chess. Since the American intervention in 2001, the Indians have contributed more than a billion dollars to the stabilization of Afghanistan. Under the India-Afghanistan Partnership Agreement, they also provided around $ 3 billion in development aid, donated buses and built roads, dams, schools, hospitals and the parliament in Kabul.At the Afghanistan conference in Geneva 2020, Jaishankar spoke of "more than 400 projects in India in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan".

The surrounding countries are also positioning themselves

Of course, this democratic construction only lasted as long as America kept the Taliban in check.

New Delhi accuses the Islamists of supporting the Pakistanis in the fight for Kashmir.

They only made formal contact with them in June.

Afghanistan should also begin trilateral talks with its large neighbors Iran and India.

For India it is about a difficult balancing of forces with Beijing: Together one could try to accept the Taliban in large parts of Afghanistan, but to stop their influence at the national borders.

It remains to be seen whether India's big rival China, given its own plans in Afghanistan, is interested.

This is another reason why the Indians are in close contact with their partners in Moscow, Tehran and Washington.

And the surrounding countries of Central Asia are also positioning themselves now. Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev wants to network his country more closely with South Asia. He is looking for a connection to the Chabahar port in Iran, which is supported by India. He's also just signed a transit agreement with Pakistan, which gives his country access to the China-sponsored port of Gwadar. Uzbekistan's ambassador to India, Dilshod Akhotov, describes the neighbors' view most aptly: “Afghanistan is not just a neighbor, it is part of our region. At the moment, some see it as a source of problems and threats, but it is also a source of opportunities. ”Ultimately, for all states in the region, the opportunity is also defined by access to the sea. “We want to reach the open sea through our southern neighbors.The next way from here leads to the Indian Ocean, ”says Akhotov.