China seeks a dependent Afghanistan for access to minerals, say analysts

By Hamza

In this photograph taken on May 6, 2013, an Afghan policeman keeps watch over miners at a gold mine on a mountainside near Qara Zaghan village, Baghlan province. [Shah Marai/AFP]

In this photograph taken on May 6, 2013, an Afghan policeman keeps watch over miners at a gold mine on a mountainside near Qara Zaghan village, Baghlan province. [Shah Marai/AFP]

KABUL -- China has initiated a dangerous strategy aimed at making Afghanistan economically and politically dependent on Beijing so that it can exploit the nation's mineral reserves and counter any potential threat from Uighur separatists, say analysts.

Afghanistan's resources include bauxite, copper, iron ore, lithium and rare earth elements, according to a January 2021 report by the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Afghanistan is also home to rare earth elements that are used in the clean energy sector: neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium.

The country's untapped mineral riches have been estimated at $1 trillion by the USGS, though Afghan officials have estimated the value to be three times higher.

Chinese companies have already expressed interest in investing in Afghanistan's mining sector since the fall of the previous Afghan government in August.

"China has started a dangerous game in Afghanistan," Tamim Nuristani, the former governor of Nuristan and a US-based political analyst, told Salaam Times.

"China's policy has always been to support countries with generous packages through different channels, including providing loans," said Nuristani.

"After countries fail to repay the loans, China uses its leverage to pressure those borrowing governments to give it access to each country's natural and mineral resources."

"We have seen examples of Chinese government manipulation in several countries in Africa and Latin America," Nuristani noted.

"China is pursuing the same political goal by providing humanitarian aid and millions of dollars in financial assistance to Afghanistan. By doing so, China wants to make the government in Kabul dependent on its political support and, with such a trick, take control of our country's mines and natural resources," he said.

"By exerting its dominance over Afghanistan, China plans to build an economic and political corridor through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and the Middle East," Nuristani said.

Mineral resources

Just weeks after the fall of the previous government, China pledged $31 million in immediate aid to Afghanistan.

The pledges proved to be hollow.

Later, China announced it had provided only $1 million in humanitarian aid and pledged $5 million in food and medical assistance to Afghanistan.

"China is pursuing several goals in Afghanistan and intends to exploit minerals and other raw materials. In order to achieve its objectives, China is pledging millions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan," Ahmad Saeedi, an Afghan political analyst based in Uzbekistan, told Salaam Times.

"China is trying to build an allied government in Afghanistan that will remain dependent on its resources ... so that [China] can openly invest in and exploit Afghanistan's minerals and also ... easily export Chinese goods to Afghanistan, Central Asia and other countries," Saeedi said.

"China's other goal is to support the establishment of an anti-American and anti-Indian government in Afghanistan," he added.

"China is seeking a monopoly over investment and trade throughout the region," said Sayed Masoud, an Afghan economic analyst based in Turkmenistan.

"It has some degree of influence over the markets in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. It has invested billions of dollars in the port of Gwadar [in Pakistan] to reach ocean waters, and the country is trying to access Afghanistan's mineral resources," he noted, referring to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.

"China is eyeing Afghanistan's rare earth elements," Kabul-based political analyst Salim Paigir also told Salaam Times.

"Our country has billions of dollars' worth of natural resources. By pledging millions of dollars in assistance, China is trying to acquire Afghanistan's untapped natural assets," he said.

"China aims to achieve its own economic interests rather than improving Afghanistan's economic situation."

"China took advantage of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan as an opportunity to promote its political, economic and security dominance in Afghanistan," Paigir added.

Uighur oppression

Many also see China's aid as part of a plan to counter Uighur separatists.

Beijing has been committing a litany of rights violations in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, which has a majority Muslim population and borders Afghanistan, according to numerous media and NGO reports that have sparked global outrage.

More than a million people, most of them Uighurs, have been arbitrarily detained in "political re-education" camps in Xinjiang.

"China's controversial approaches are really worrisome," said Mujtaba, 31, a resident of Kabul.

"On one hand China is torturing, imprisoning and tyrannising millions of Uighur Muslims, and on the other it provides humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan."

"These two contradictory actions of the Chinese show their sinister intentions towards Afghanistan and its people," he said.

"By providing humanitarian and financial assistance, Beijing seeks to encourage the current Afghan government to contain and possibly suppress the Uighurs," said Nuristani, the former government of Nuristan, referring to Uighurs living in Afghanistan.

"China wants to have intelligence and security dominance in Afghanistan," he added.

"China's objective long before the American withdrawal from Afghanistan was to disrupt the expansion of and prevent the activities of [Uighur fighters] in Afghanistan," said US-based Afghan political analyst Edris Rahmani.

"To this end, the Chinese intelligence operatives have been active across Afghanistan," he said.

"China's ambition has not changed, and by aligning itself with the Afghanistan government nowadays, [China] wants to be aware of developments in the country," Rahmani said.

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