by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It is easy to think the Taliban is the biggest winner in Afghanistan, since it has overtaken the entire nation in days as the United States, once clearly the most powerful nation on earth, pulled out of Afghanistan in the most humiliating fashion. But in the larger geopolitical context, the real biggest winner in Afghanistan is the Chinese Communist Party.
The CCP has benefited from America’s military engagement in Afghanistan for the last 20 years. As the United States spent trillions of dollars and sent thousands of troops to fight a futile “war on terrorism,” successions of U.S. administrations, regardless of party affiliation, lost their focus on the great-power competition between China and the United States. The CCP took advantage of this opportunity to grow economically and militarily and expand its geopolitical influence overseas with astonishing speed.
On the economic front, Beijing rolled out a massive global infrastructure project called “One Belt, One Road” in 2013 to help the CCP spread its influence. A vital component is building infrastructure projects along a Eurasian land route linking China and Europe through Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan has kept the violence in the nation under control and effectively provided China a security service free of charge. China has taken advantage of the situation to seize a significant share of Afghanistan’s natural resources. For example, Chinese state-owned companies are developing the world’s largest copper field in Afghanistan. China is also building a freight railroad from western China to Pakistan through Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
On the military front, two decades of America’s war in Afghanistan have drained valuable U.S. military resources, and U.S. political leaders and military brass failed to take effective measures to counter China’s military buildup.