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High Stakes

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There have been celebrations in Pakistan over the anticipated loss to India of its regional clout and many development projects in Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s resurgence. Having provided sanctuary and support to the Taliban over the years, that nation expects to be given special importance in case they manage to take over. Unfortunately, despite the glee over India’s embarrassment, there is disappointment that, thus far, the Taliban have not responded with the expected warmth. It must be remembered that the Taliban have never accepted the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan because of ethnic and historical reasons. Having got the better of the US and other foreign forces, will they accord respect to Pakistan’s sovereign boundaries?

Pakistanis are also confident that, in the new scenario, they will have the backing of long term friend China. This is particularly because there are a number of projects like CPEC that will require to be defended, mostly in the disturbed provinces in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Just two days ago, a Pakistan Army Captain and 11 soldiers were killed by local insurgents. This was followed on Wednesday by a blast in a bus that led to the death of 13 persons, including 9 Chinese, in the same province. This is an indication of how volatile the situation is.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has far greater importance for China than merely the advantages it may give to the host country. The entire effort over the past twenty years has been to break out of the shackles that geography has imposed on China. It wishes to bypass the Indo-Pacific that is dominated by the US and India and involves the territorial claims of numerous countries, thereby acquiring access to Africa and Europe. It can be expected, therefore, that it will not take kindly to the Taliban challenging the project.

Unless some kind of agreement is reached, China could become the third major power the Taliban could come into conflict with. They have already been warned not to back the Uyghur insurgents in Xinjiang province and seem amenable to that request, but may not be so accepting regarding their claims in Pakistan. Although much of this is presently in the realm of conjecture because Kabul has yet to be won, most nations are preparing for the worst. Should the present regime manage to hold out, it will then be India’s turn to get further involved. While the dice are still rolling, the stakes are getting even higher.