China’s oil gambit in Taliban’s Afghanistan – Understanding the dynamics of Afghanistan | 12th January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about changing dynamics of China – Afghanistan relations.


  • GS2: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.


  • The Chinese firm has signed a multi-million-dollar oil deal with the Taliban. This is the first financial success for Taliban-led Afghanistan in international relations.
  • The deal, estimated to be $540 million, gives Beijing access to the Amu Darya basin in northern Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan has small and medium-sized mineral fields, most of which remain unexplored.
  • China was developing this basin even before the Taliban takeover.
  • The Taliban-led interim government had been seeking a major economic victory, dangling the country’s mineral wealth largely in front of China while also trying to impress other countries.

Analysis: Let’s analyse this deal from China’s and Taliban’s perspective.

  • China’s perspective:
    • China mainly have two geostrategic goals in mind as follows:
    • To keep Afghanistan and Central Asia out of reach of the West:
      • With withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, China felt relieved. But this was challenged when Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has offered space for the U.S. to re-engage in Central Asia. 
    • To foster and strengthen relations with Afghanistan:
      • China has been receptive to the Taliban for some time now and has been the most visible power in Kabul since the Taliban took charge. Beijing has hosted multiple Taliban delegations.
      • Economically, China’s approach to Afghanistan would have Pakistan at the centre, so that both states are tied to larger projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
  • The Taliban perspective:
    • The Taliban is aiming to establish a successful Islamic Emirate, one that is different from the previous version. To achieve this, they need a somewhat functional economy to fund not only the state, but also individual factions within the umbrella of the Taliban movement.
    • Today, Afghans live in terrible economic and social conditions.
    • A prolonged economic depression will challenge the authority of the current regime. The challenge may not come from the public, but from within the movement.
    • It is unlikely that the Taliban would make ideological concessions only to facilitate certain economic gains after building a narrative of having defeated a superpower.

Why is Afghanistan known as the graveyard of the empires?

  • Many foreign powers, small and great, attacked and tried to conquer Afghanistan. But no one succeeded in ruling the mighty Afghan tribes.
  • Great powers such as Britain, Russia, and the United States defeated Afghan armies, but they were never able to hold Afghanistan due to the Afghan Tribes' unwavering nationalist attitude.
  • These failed attempts to rule Afghanistan, however, caused thousands of deaths among military personnel and civilians.
  • Owing to these facts, Afghanistan is known as the “graveyard of the empires.”

Way Forward:

  • Beyond the politics and posturing, the practicality of the deal and implementation of the deal is going to be key.
  • The success or failure of the oil deal could determine the future of Afghanistan-China cooperation.
  • Nonetheless, Beijing would be wary of not becoming another footnote in the ‘graveyard of empires’ story.

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