Central Asia: The new battleground for US and China

Source– The post is based on the article “Central Asia: The new battleground for US and China” published in The Indian Express on 29th October 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

Relevance– Geopolitics across the Central Asia

News- The article explains the geopolitical game between major powers across Central Asia and its strategic implications.

What is the importance of Central Asia?

The Samarkand declaration describes Central Asia as the core of the SCO. This includes stabilizing Afghanistan.

The US strategy too recognizes that a “secure and stable” Central Asia would contribute directly to the US’s counterterrorism efforts.

What is happening in Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, the Taliban is battling multiple challenges to security and stability. The killing of Ayman al Zawahiri in a US drone strike in Kabul has created fresh doubts about the Taliban’s intentions as well as capacity to go after terror networks.

A UN Security Council report documented the presence of 8,000 to 10,000 foreign fighters in Afghanistan. The report said such groups included hundreds of fighters of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Central Asian groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Islamic Jihad Union.

What is the current situation in Pakistan?

Pakistan’s forces are facing direct attacks in tribal areas in Peshawar and the Swat Valley from Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan and Baloch groups.

Chinese interest in Pakistan has been targeted by bad Taliban and Baloch groups. These groups have upped the ante since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

What is the Chinese strategy in the region?

China does not seem ready to provide a security umbrella to Central Asia or Afghanistan. It is closely coordinating moves with Pakistan across central Asia and beyond. China has ambitions of becoming the pre-eminent Asiatic power in this region. It wants to use it to weaken competition from the US across the Indian Ocean region.

After the departure of US troops from Afghanistan, China started engaging deeply with the Taliban. However, China’s direct influence in Afghanistan remains limited. It wants to limit competition from the US across the Indian Ocean region by strong presence in this region.

It is cooperating with Pakistan in this region. In alliance with Pakistan, it is trying to reverse the influence of other states in the region through proxy violence and border engagements. Aggression at Indian borders within two months of the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in February 2020 is an example.

The joint China-Pakistan moves include consistent hardening of the LAC with India and putting a technical hold on UN designations of Pakistan-backed terror operatives. The recent docking of Chinese-built Pakistani frigate PNS Taimur at the Colombo port and China’s ship Yuan Wang 5 at Hambantota port appears to be aimed at spreading their footprints in the Indian Ocean region.

What are security challenges in the region?

US-China competition in the region has a nuclear dimension because of the presence of three nuclear weapon states. China started helping Pakistan develop its military and nuclear muscle mainly to offset threats arising from strong Indo-Soviet cooperation. It has built Pakistan as an “all-weather” nuclear state.

There is rising levels of proxy violence across Af-Pak. The aggressive propaganda of new age proxies commanded by the Pakistan deep state, like the al Qaeda and Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), are serious threats.

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