China-Pakistan: US, Afghanistan’s end blame-game RAPIDLY changing anti-China and Pakistan geo political and geo-strategic realignments of the US, the West and its regional allies in the region and beyond have alarmed Beijing and Islamabad. In this connection, QUAD meeting in Washington, formation of AUKUS, provocations in South China Sea, critical anti-gravitational gear of Taiwan, constant interference in the domestic affairs of China (Hong Kong & Uighurs) and US big brasses accusations against Pakistan all clearly indicated start of new end blame game in the region to contain China and siege Pakistan. On the contrary, China and Pakistan have been striving hard to reach a regional consensus to recognize the new interim set-up of Taliban. But regional spoilers and its masters have been trying to siege Pakistan through their webs of destruction, sabotage and collateral damage. In this context, most recently, China called on the US to unfreeze assets in Afghanistan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the assets belonged to Afghanistan and the US should accept the legitimate demands of the nation. Ironically, a bill titled “Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability” has been moved by 22 US Republican Senators in the Senate seeking to assess so-called Pakistan’s alleged role in Afghanistan before and after the fall of Kabul to Afghan Taliban. Although it is not a policy bill but still it has put Pakistan in the line of fire. The section 202 of the said bill directly mentions Pakistan and calls for an “assessment of support by state and non-state actors, including the government of Pakistan, for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020.” The Foreign Office of Pakistan reacted to said bill and termed it unfortunate and unwarranted. Even, Interior Ministry rejected allegations that Pakistan had provided any military support to the Afghan Taliban. The Foreign Office spokesman termed all such references inconsistent with the spirit of Pakistan-US cooperation on Afghanistan since 2001, including facilitation of the Afghan peace process and during the recent evacuations of American and other nationals from Afghanistan. Critical analysis of the 57-page draft bill called ‘‘Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act of 2021’’ made several references to Pakistan in terms of support by state and non-state actors, including the Government of Pakistan for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020, including the provision of sanctuary space, financial support, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, equipping and tactical, operational or strategic direction. Actually, it was imminent after the blistering speech and stance of Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, who also wrote a comprehensive article to set-aside US blame game against Pakistan. Moreover, it also calls for an assessment about the alleged role of the state, non-state actors as well as the government of Pakistan in supporting the Taliban offensive leading to the fall of Kabul. The Republican Senators further asked the Biden Administration to assess the role of Pakistan in supporting the Taliban offensive against Panjshir Valley. Interestingly, the ruling Democratic Party and Republicans currently have 50 Senators each in the 100-member Upper House of US Congress. This means both sides lack a majority to pass any legislation. In this case, US Vice President Kamala Harris’s vote becomes the key deciding factor. In the past, Pakistan had faced US sanctions after the withdrawal of former Soviet Union forces from Afghanistan in 1989. Two years later the then US President, Bush Senior, invoked the ‘Pressler Amendment’ to suspend all kinds of civil and military assistance to Pakistan for pursuing the nuclear program. Moreover, top US Generals, especially Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they had warned US President Joe Biden that a rushed withdrawal from Afghanistan could increase risks to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the country’s security. Thus shed doubts over Pakistan’s security doctrine and intentionally started a new blame game of its nuclear arsenals. General Milley and General Frank McKenzie, the leader of US Central Command, also warned that Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban would become significantly more complicated as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Centcom chief also said that the US and Pakistan were involved in ongoing negotiations over the use of a vital air corridor to access Afghanistan. But this time the government and establishment denied this access and ultimately now facing the heat. As expected, the Biden Administration froze nearly $9.5 billion in Afghan government reserves held in US bank accounts. On its part, Beijing responded quickly calling upon the international community to furnish assistance without conditions, unfreeze assets and remove obstacles to reconstruction. Nevertheless, China, along with Pakistan, was also one of the first countries to offer foreign aid since the Taliban took power, pledging $31 million worth of grain, winter supplies, vaccines and medicine. However, Beijing’s perpetual concern has been, and remains, the potential for Afghanistan to become a sanctuary for militant groups targeting Chinese territory, economic assets in the surrounding region and or diplomats and workers. Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the then-head of the Taliban Political Commission, Abdul Ghani Baradar met in Tianjin during July 2021 reportedly focused on the issue of Taliban ties with Uighur groups. China obtained assurances the Taliban would “never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China”. In recent years, China has taken great pains to seal the 50-mile border with Afghanistan, reducing the likelihood of infiltration into Xinjiang. However, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has emerged as a capable actor and has established a presence in Afghanistan. Being a prominent regional expert of China, this scribe suggests that there is an urgent need to have national unity and clarity of purpose among all stakeholders and political parties to cope with the spillover ramifications of sudden withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. Despite the best diplomatic efforts by China and Pakistan to convince the Taliban to form a board-based inclusive government, respect towards women, weaker factions of society, the same has not yet been achieved. Rather, the Taliban has once again started its journey towards so-called past glorification and gratification and sadly indulged in numerous conflicts and contradictions which have received strong condemnation from the US and the West. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is apparently not happy with the new Taliban. Qatar has lost its magic connection with the Taliban. Turkey is not at ease while dealing with the new Taliban. Iran has already out-busted the so-called inclusive government of Taliban. Thus regional response to recognize the new Taliban interim set-up has been further marginalized. Importantly, the Establishment of Pakistan should not take any smart move to regain comparative advantage and work jointly with China to move in the right direction on the issue of Taliban and sanctuaries of terrorism. —The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics, Regional geopolitical expert of China, CPEC & BRI.