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The Taliban’s Capture of the Wakhan Corridor and Its Repercussions on Regional Geopolitics

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At the end of last July, it was claimed that the Pakistani administration made an offer to Dushanbe to reach Tajikistan by cutting the Wakhan Corridor in a north-south direction. Abdul Karim Hurrem, known as “pro-Taliban” in this regard and who was the Private Secretary of Former President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, announced that Pakistan wanted to open a transit route through Wakhan to trade with Tajikistan and warned the Taliban Government about the danger of isolation and fragmentation of Afghanistan.[1] Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid reacted to the allegations and said, “There have been no talks with Pakistan on the issue. Not one inch of Afghanistan’s land will be compromised.” he said.[2] Shortly after this, it was announced that the Wakhan Corridor had been captured by the Taliban.[3]

Pakistan’s idea of connecting Tajikistan to the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)” is not new. According to Hurrem, Pakistan also made requests from Afghanistan on this issue during the reign of Hamid Karzai, but this request was not accepted. The main concern of the Taliban here is that the Wakhan Corridor connecting Afghanistan to China will be cut in a north-south direction in such a way as to provide a connection between Pakistan and Tajikistan. The practical result of this is the disappearance of the dependence of the Central Asian countries on Afghanistan at the point of corridors. In other words, if the Taliban Government had turned a blind eye to this, it would have lost its own geopolitical importance. In other words, the Taliban would have lost a trump card (the economic corridor) that it could use against the Central Asian states and China.

It should not be forgotten that India also opposes the Pakistan-Tajikistan connection. In general, New Delhi is against the idea of a corridor connecting the Central Asian states to Pakistan. India’s main objection is to the CPEC passing through the Kashmir region. The fact that the regional states, especially Afghanistan and Tajikistan, are strengthening their ties with Pakistan and participating in China’s project is seen as a major threat to India.

More importantly, New Delhi thinks that in such a scenario, it will completely lose its influence in Afghanistan. Because Pakistan opposes a transit agreement that would allow India to reach Central Asia through its territory. Thus, it confines it to its limits. In this sense, Pakistan’s effort to strengthen its ties with Tajikistan is also strategic. Central Asian states will either prefer the Afghanistan-Iran-India corridor or connect to CPEC through Tajikistan and China. All this geopolitical rivalry is stuck between Iran and Pakistan.

The central player of this rivalry is the Taliban. So much so that the moves made by the Taliban can break or increase the geopolitical effectiveness of India, Pakistan, and China. For example, on July 27, 2022, a group of armed Taliban members attacked the Wakhan Corridor Border Post near Lake Karambar in Pakistan and seized the area. Thus, the Taliban has dashed Pakistan’s hopes of reaching Central Asia by using the Wakhan Corridor.[4]

The Taliban, which has secured control in Wakhan, has thus guaranteed the following:

  • Tajikistan must first use Chinese territory to connect to Pakistan.
  • The dependence of the Central Asian countries on Afghanistan continues at the point of reaching Pakistan.
  • China will be forced to cooperate and compromise with the Taliban.

It is important to consider the effects of the process on Sino-Taliban relations. The Taliban is opposed to third countries, including Pakistan, setting up games, showing activity or making military-security moves in Afghanistan. This also includes China. The Taliban say yes on paper to Chinese offers to cooperate in the military-security field. However, United Nations (UN) reports reveal that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) has increased its presence in Afghanistan.[5] In other words, it is seen that the Taliban, in fact, does not keep its promises to China, or that it cannot or does not want to fully control these organizations. The same goes for corridors. The Taliban wants China to remain dependent on it in every way.

In fact, Pakistan’s offer to Tajikistan to join the CPEC is not a proposal that China supports or comes up with on its initiative. Because Beijing wants to connect Tajikistan to Pakistan more through its own territory. In this regard, the Beijing Government may plan to revive the transit transport agreement (QTTA) between Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-China-Pakistan and to include Tajikistan in this corridor.  Therefore, we cannot say that China fully supports the north-south division of Wakhan and thus ensuring the connection between Tajikistan and Pakistan. Because China, as mentioned above, has alternative plans regarding Tajikistan.

In addition, China’s project to connect Afghanistan to the CPEC is not working through Wakhan. In other words, the establishment of a bridge between Tajikistan and Pakistan over the Wakhan and thus Afghanistan’s participation in CPEC is not an idea that is the initiative of China and is primarily supported by it. Because China supports the project that primarily connects Afghanistan to Pakistan by rail. In other words, it is weighing on Afghanistan’s participation in CPEC via the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (Trans-Afghan) railway.

In fact, the north-south cutting of Wakhan will increase free crossings from Pakistan to Tajikistan, so terrorism and security problems can easily be transferred to Tajikistan. China will not be able to control this. Therefore, the uncontrolled connection of Pakistan to Tajikistan and the possibility of the Wakhan Corridor turning into a hotbed of terrorism disturbs China. China’s goal is to ensure the safety of Wakhan. In this context, China may have wanted the Taliban to make moves in this direction to ensure control of Wakhan. In other words, China may have supported the Taliban to prevent this project of Pakistan that pacified (bypass) itself. Because China is planning to connect Central Asian countries to CPEC through its own territory, and then its corridor to pass mainly from Kashmir to Pakistan. If we make the opposite reading, China supports the plan to leave its territory and use the Middle Corridor to reach Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and from there to Afghanistan and then Pakistan. If the Pakistan-Tajikistan connection is achieved, then the importance of China’s project of connecting to Afghanistan through Central Asia and from there to Pakistan will decrease. China will not want the project that disables Afghanistan either.

What Does the Killing of Zawahiri Mean?

The revelation that the Taliban has provided a safe living space to al-Qaeda will be a source of great concern for India. Because the Taliban are trying to get help from not only the international community, but also their neighbours China, India and Central Asian states by promising “fight against terrorism”. Neither India nor China will be able to fully trust the Taliban’s promise to fight terrorism and show solidarity with it. In this case, China’s security concerns arising from Wakhan, and Tajikistan will increase. It is alleged that during the process of Zawahiri’s assassination, Pakistan provided intelligence support to the US using the Haqqani Network.[6] The influence of Pakistan on other fundamentalist groups through the Taliban is also worrying for China. China, which cannot control Pakistan, will also oppose its connection to Tajikistan. Therefore, China will look more warmly at the fact that the Wakhan Corridor remains under the control of the Taliban.

Reflections of Recent Developments in Afghanistan on Regional Geopolitics

The Taliban’s ties with terrorist organizations also deepen the competition experienced in the context of economic corridors. The Taliban rule in Afghanistan and the growing problem of terrorism and instability in connection with it cause India and China to compete more, not to come together. India’s trust problem with the Taliban is much greater compared to the problems China has with the Taliban. For example, during the last Afghanistan Conference in Uzbekistan, the Foreign Ministers of both Pakistan and China met with the Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. However, the Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has not met Muttaqi.[7] This shows that India’s ties with the Taliban are far behind compared to China.

This trust issue between the Taliban and India may lead to a further strengthening of China in Afghanistan in the regional rivalry. Because China can overcome the trust problems it has with the Taliban at the point of fighting against terrorism more easily compared to India. The issue that affects China’s view of the Taliban is its ties to terrorist organizations. The trust problems it has with Pakistan stem from its ties with the US. Therefore, China may not allow Pakistan to establish a new geopolitical equation over Wakhan. China wishes to establish the regional geopolitics by ensuring the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan connection both within the framework of the CPEC and the Middle Corridor.

[1] @KarimKhurram_KK, “Pakistan ısrar etti ve defalarca Başkan Karzai’den Vahan üzerinden Tacikistan’a bir ticaret yolu açmasına izin vermesini istedi, ancak reddedildi.”, July 22, 2022, Twitter, ttihttps://twitter.com/KarimKhurram_KK/status/1550501772367732737?s=20&t=7LutmsMaC_-ClQeId02w4Q, (Date of Accession: 03.08.2022).

[2] “Did Pakistan talk to Afghanistan on Wakhan? To what extent the corridor is important”, Pajhwok, https://pajhwok.com/2022/07/27/no-talks-with-pakistan-on-wakhan-transit-road-iea/, (Date of Accession: 03.08.2022).

[3] “Taliban captures strategic Wakhan Corridor from Pakistan”, The Print, https://theprint.in/world/taliban-captures-strategic-wakhan-corridor-from-pakistan/1064769/, (Date of Accession: 03.08.2022).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Uygur separatist group rebuilds bases in Afghanistan even as China-Taliban ties grow”, SCMP, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3186820/uygur-separatist-group-rebuilds-bases-afghanistan-even-china, (Date of Accession: 03.08.2022).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.