Afghanistan: A ‘black hole’ the world dreads!

Initially, they all had grandiose plans to either exploit or squeeze into an unstable Afghanistan when the Taliban returned to power in Kabul on August 15, 2021. In less than two months, however, they have pulled back from this Asiatic cauldron, reminding themselves how it has sunk empires and superpowers.

History has taught them that the Afghans are at peace only when they are at war! It’s best to keep off.

Slowly, Afghanistan is fading out from the front pages. The reason, perhaps, is no one seems ready to burn fingers, once again, in this war-torn country. All nations are in the wait-and-watch mode, which, in geopolitics, means masterly inactivity, or keeping aloof the way Great Britain kept away from European power politics in the 18th and 19th centuries, and now doing the same, post-Brexit.

They have left Afghanistan to fend for themselves.

At least the suffering Syrians could migrate to Turkey, the Middle East, and the West. The Afghans cannot even do it. Their self-proclaimed local ‘messiah’, Pakistan, has tightly closed its borders; Pakistan’s own ‘messiah’, China, after initial fire and brimstone, has fallen silent due mainly to its own subtle power struggle within the Xi Jinping regime; the US-led West has already left the ‘graveyard of empires’ to its own fate; Iran is busy sorting out its mess with Washington, and India finds that no role in Afghanistan is better than any role—New Delhi, having already sunk over $3 billion between 2001 and 2020, will have to pay to play a role, with no guarantee that the footage will not be edited out!

So, after Syrians, the Afghans are the new global orphans. In the biting winter ahead, the hungry Afghans could die in large numbers as Islamist terror outfits engage in a do-or-die battle to outsmart one another. Afghanistan is facing a famine of both food and money, and the victorious Taliban find it difficult to make them eat guns and bombs.

Other countries are also keeping away. Any help offered to the country would go to the coffers of terrorists who will corner it. Kabul is already sitting on a volcano and a ‘civil war’—if that is the right word—is staring it in the face. Its mountains are killing fields, passes are mined, and plains grow largely opium and gunpowder.

In this ruthless power game, only the battle-hardened Islamists will survive in this terror-enrichment alchemy; all others will perish. Since they are ruling Kabul at present, the Taliban, and Afghan Pashtuns within its ranks, are likely to be ‘beneficiaries’ of this misfortune. By next spring and summer, the fiercest Taliban insurgents may target Tajikistan and Balochistan as a prelude to their next target: Xinjiang.

Luckily, if that happens, Pakistan will shield India as a buffer! For once, Islamabad’s claims that it is a ‘victim’ of terrorism will evoke sympathy!!

Some humanitarian organizations are concerned with this black hole-type implosion and the possibility of large-scale famine-deaths in Afghanistan in the coming winter. They do not want to send official aid to Afghanistan, as the Taliban regime remains globally unrecognized. The West, and others, want the Taliban to give ‘concession’ in return for opening the financial taps. For this, the Taliban will have to eliminate anti-West elements, like the Haqqani Network and the Islamic State-Khorasan, from within the Islamist regime.

Hunger is forcing desperate Afghans to sell their meagre belongings to buy food. Some global NGOs are preparing to fly in direct cash for the needy while avoiding officially financing the Taliban government, according to media reports.

Planning for the cash airlifts—and creating a cash lifeline—may materialize for a country facing a rapidly collapsing economy where money is short. This emergency funding, aimed at averting a cataclysmic humanitarian crisis in the face of drought and political upheaval, could mean American dollar bills flown into Kabul for distribution via banks in payments of less than USD 200 directly to the poor – with the expected Taliban’s blessings but without their involvement.

The food situation is so grim in this poor country that many Afghans are skipping meals to keep their children fed. The Taliban treasury has had no money since the departure of the U.S.-led forces, as many global donors robbed it of grants that financed 75 percent of public spending, according to the World Bank.

United Nations World Food Programme Director Mary-Ellen McGroarty has warned more than a third of Afghans–14 million out of a 40 million population–are facing hunger. The nation’s economy could collapse anytime in the face of a cash crisis.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed about 10 million Afghanis ($110,000) in cash via a local bank and intends to disburse more soon, media reported.

The WFP is considering flying in cash and distribute it directly to people to buy food. Else, the donors would fly cash to the Afghan banks on behalf of the UN to pay salaries to the UN and NOG staff.

Kabul’s financial crisis arose as its central bank, with assets of $9 billion frozen offshore, has burnt through much of its reserves at home.

But the intrepid Taliban have survived such crises for another day.

Now they are looking at 2022.

BRI: Now, Africa’s ‘ants’ may apportion the Dragon!

“When troubles come,” Claudius in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “they come not single spies but in battalions.”

The People’s Republic of China, where Communism killed ancient wisdom and turned the great people psychologically rudderless, mentally bankrupt, and civilizationally orphan, maybe realizing this. Not only has Covid-19 cornered Beijing in the world, its multiple organ failures—Alibaba, TenCent, Evergrande—are turning its erstwhile economic miracle into a nightmare. And troubles, like debts, keep mounting on a monthly basis.

Now, several African countries are, like intrepid ants apportioning with small cuts a much larger creature, Beijing increasingly finds itself pushed into a corner on investment-related matters. Some of these countries, having woken up to the Dragon’s carefully laid debt-traps via the projects under its grandiose, multi-continental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), have even canceled their contracts with Chinese companies, and others are forcing China to re-negotiate deals.

They also drew inspiration from a similar experience of the South and South Asian countries who have now woken up to the Chinese threats.

Of the 42 African countries which signed up with the BRI, at least 18 are reportedly renegotiating their debts while 12 others are in talks with China for restricting nearly USD 28 billion worth of loans. In Nigeria, members of parliament have been demanding a probe into the lending practices in the country and review their sovereign guarantee clauses in loan agreements with China.

Initiated in 2013, the BRI is President-for-Life Xi Jinping’s grandiose plan to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime trade networks to create new routes for China’s global trade, geopolitical aims, and influence. The gargantuan projects, numbering around 1,800 across the three continents, are billed at over USD 3 trillion, including the flagship, USD 65 billion worth of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). They would have made China the Dragon Emperor.

But the beast’s still-born chicken are coming home to roost even before they could really hatch.

In a recent article, the Singapore Post said some African countries had canceled contracts as the “shoddy” work of the Chinese firms had triggered tension for the ruling dispensations.

After Ghana’s cancellation of the contract of the Beijing Everyway Traffic and Lighting Tech Company, entrusted with developing an intelligent traffic management system, Congo also followed suit. Its President, Felix Tshisekedi, sought a review of mining contracts signed with China in 2008. He said he wanted to get fairer deals for his country. Unhappy with China’s exploitative tendency, he said, “Those with whom our country signed contracts are getting richer while Congo’s people remain poor.”

In 2008, Congo’s then-President Joseph Kabila (2001 to 2019) had signed deals with Chinese state-backed firms Sinohydro Corp and China Railway Group, envisaging the building of roads, hospitals, and bridges in exchange for a 68 percent stake in the country’s Sicomines venture. A lack of transparency shrouded those China-led projects in Congo.

Earlier, Ghana had also canceled the project outright because they found Everyway’s work unsatisfactory.

In July 2020, a Kenyan High Court ordered the cancellation of a USD 3.2 billion contract between Kenya and China for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway. The court termed the whole project “illegal”, stating the state-run Kenya Railways failed to comply with the country’s law in the procurement of the Standard Gauge Railway.

According to a report by the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies’ China-Africa Research Initiative, between 2000 and 2019, Beijing had signed 1,141 loan commitments worth USD 153 billion with the African governments and their state-owned enterprises.

Such mounting loans became unbearable for the poor African countries. Also, due to the Covid-19 pandemic’s adverse impact on their economies, African countries found it difficult to service loans they had taken from China. With the limited choice to manage debt burdens, these countries preferred to suspend projects which are anyway controversial, burdensome, financially unviable, or cut sorry figures on the accountability front. Most of these would have benefited China alone.

In fact, the 2020 pandemic came as a reverse gear for the Chinese economy. Due to lockdowns and recession, demand for Chinese products plummeted in many countries. It diminished the flow of finances for ongoing infrastructure development projects. Fearing default on payments, many African countries decided to scrap the projects altogether or began re-negotiating loan terms with Chinese entities, including deferment of interest payments and suspending the unviable projects.

As per the estimates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), additional financing of up to USD 285 billion would be required during 2021-25 by the African countries to step up their spending response to the Covid pandemic. They can do so only by minimizing domestic developmental works so as to divert funds to keep the people healthy. In other words, they will have to rethink the projects they wanted China to develop in their countries.

China’s total loans to Africa from 2000 to 2018 amounted to USD 148 billion, mostly in large-scale infrastructure projects. Since 2016, nearly 66 percent of the loan amount has been given to the transportation and energy sectors.

Since 2010, the Chinese financial institutions started funding an average of 70 projects, worth about USD 180 million, every year. Among them, the resource guarantee infrastructure financing has been focused on minerals and hydrocarbon-rich African states including Zambia (copper), Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Algeria, Mozambique, Egypt, Sudan (oil and gas) South Africa, and Tanzania (gold), media reports said.

These natural resources were supposed to be driving, one-way, the resource-and-energy hungry Chinese economy in the 21st century.

At present, Beijing is a leading bilateral lender in 32 African countries and the top lender to the continent as a whole. The list includes Angola (USD 21.5 billion in 2017), Ethiopia (USD 13.7 billion), Kenya (USD 9.8 billion), the Republic of Congo (USD 7.42 billion), Zambia (USD 6.38 billion), and Cameroon (USD 5.57 billion), according to media reports.

These huge debts have often triggered a repayment crisis. For example, China owns around 72 percent of Kenya’s external debt, worth USD 50 billion. Over the next few years, Kenya would have to pay USD 60 billion to the China Exim Bank alone, or, in case of a default on loan repayment, it can lose control of Mombasa port, Kenya’s own auditor-general said.

 In 2015, Angola faced widespread discontent because of oil repayment against loans from China, leaving the poor country with little crude oil to export and earn precious foreign currency.

From 2010 to 2015, Nigeria’s debt to China ballooned by 136 percent, from USD 1.4 billion to USD 3.3 billion. It had to spend USD 195 million in 2020 as debt repayment to China. In Djibouti, China provided nearly USD 1.4 billion in funds which are 75 percent of the country’s GDP.

Nigeria has to repay USD 400 million against a loan provided by China for the Nigerian National Information and Communications Technology Infrastructure Phase – II Project, signed in 2018.

The Ugandan government postponed the construction of ‘Kampala-Entebbe Expressway after the political opposition raised concerns over the rising debt trap.

Clearly, the Dragon had not factored in the danger posed by ants!

A new Taliban: US-OZ forge n-sub deal to tame Dragon

For centuries, France has been the fulcrum of European civilization, the  Holy Roman Empire, Catholicism, the Crusades, Revolution, culture, fashion, and innovations…until it became one of the 30 member-states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) after the World War II and lost its pre-eminence in world affairs first to Great Britain and then to the USA.

Even now, France is where Europe is still fighting its fiercest civilizational battle against a resurgent political Islam.

Those old wounds still ache across a narcissist France.

That is why Paris was so livid with the USA and a new challenger, Australia, this week that it recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra in a huff. But France is also known to act in a haste and repent in leisure. It has done so multiple times in the past and returned to the table without taking back much.

On Friday, an angry Paris took the unusual diplomatic step against what it felt was the American-Australian ‘betrayal’. Its Foreign Minister even called it a “knife in the back’. The way it had failed to see in 1921 Germany’s anger at the Versaille Treaty, that sparked the World War II, it has failed in 2021 to visualize why America and Australia did something ‘behind its back’.

The issue at hand was France’s largest-ever defense deal, worth $60 billion, for the supply of a dozen traditionally-powered attack submarines, to strengthen Australia’s defence against China in the South China Sea and Beijing’s rising tension with Canberra, particularly after the pandemic.

China’s arrogance, expansionist designs and hegemony have, in the last couple of year, created an urgency for many nations, including the West, and they are drawing up emergency plans to meet the Dragon’s challenge in multiple war theatres. The sudden activation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), and this week’s fresh alliance between the USA, Britain and Australia, are part of this geo-strategy, as was the last month’s ‘freedom’ accorded to the Taliban to keep a big chunk of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pinned down in the Uyghur Muslim-dominated Xinjiang in the decades to come.

In other words, the way the US is pitting Afghanistan against China in the West, it is arming Australia in the East. Why? To keep Beijing away from foraying into global naval power politics on both the sides.

Apparently it was with this objective that, fearing the French reluctance to forgo its big business deal and thus delay decision-making in the face of mounting Chinese threat, that the US and Australia entered secret talks, keeping Paris out of the loop. The US promised Australia nuclear-powered submarines, media reports said.

That is why, as soon as US President Joe Biden announced the submarine deal on Wednesday during a news conference, all hell broke loose in France, which felt betrayed in 2021 the way Germany did in 1921.

Knowing this ‘French disconnection’ and idiosyncracy very well, and the possibility of the deal being sabotaged by a democracy-blinded and short-sighted Paris, the US and Australia went to extraordinary lengths to keep France in the dark while they secretly negotiated. The nuclear submarine deal, as expensive as the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), will be a key component of the West’s policy to keep Beijing pinned down in South China Sea, although it scuttled France’s mammoth contract.

The French-Australian deal was signed in 2018. Since then, geopolitical realities have undergone a sea change, literally and metaphorically. China has suddenly emerged as the single largest threat to the world. The Dragon is now the Devil.

Had the US and Australia waited for an easy-going and argumentative France to come around to this urgency, it would have been too late. The new deal so enraged, predictably, that French President Emmanuel Macron, on Friday, ordered the withdrawal of his country’s ambassadors from both the nations.

Macron’s decision was not unexpected, on a day that France and the USA had planned to celebrate an alliance that goes back to the defeat of Britain in the Revolutionary War of 1776.

A furious France realized that two of its closest allies, the US and Australia, negotiated secretly for months and betrayed it.

Even in the last months of the Donald Trump presidency, Australia had already told the US that it wanted to wriggle out of the agreement with a snail-paced France.

Australia feared, correctly, that the conventionally-powered French submarines would be obsolete by the time of their delivery, at a time China was becoming uncontrollable. Canberra should, instead, buy a fleet of quieter nuclear-powered submarines based on American and British designs that could patrol areas of the South China Sea with less risk of detection.

Canberra did find it difficult to terminate the French deal, which was already over budget and running behind schedule. But it had to take a decision in the face of a recalcitrant China. According to the US officials, Canberra had assured them to take care of the French concerns. Biden was reported to have concurred with Australia’s fears of China, and uncertainty about France.

 “Biden’s top aides finally discussed the issue with the French hours before it was publicly announced at the White House in a virtual meeting with Mr. Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia. The result was a blow-up that has now led to a vivid breach of trust with one of America’s oldest allies”, media reported.

Apparently, Washington realized that the new threat, present and now, to the West and Europe, may not come from a hibernating Russia but from a resurgent China. It is, therefore, scouting for new defense allies in Asia—Australia, Japan, India—in a bid to create an ‘Asian NATO’ on the European model via Quad.

Not only France, even China did not get a clue on the new deal, and the three-nation alliance that quickly followed.  Beijing’s first response to the new alliance, named AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States), was that it was “extremely irresponsible” and would start an arms race. The Chinese Navy has built a dozen nuclear subs, some of which can carry nuclear weapons. Australia had earlier vowed never to deploy nuclear weapons. No longer.

When Presiden Macron recalled the ambassadors, the US seemed taken aback by the ferocity of the French response, especially its Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s comment that it was a “knife in the back.”

But the US knows the French bark is fiercer than a feeble bite. Its anger would gradually subside, as in the past, Paris would acquiesce and come around after assessing the real threats being posed by China to the world.

How can France forget that America had opened the second front at Normandy in 1944 to liberate Paris from Berlin…

And that Paris had gifted the Statue of Liberty to America in 1886 to commemorate its contribution to the American Revolution in 1776 against Britain?

Taliban 2.0: Kabul may now become China’s nemesis!

On July 28, 1914, a Bosnian youth assassinated Austro-Hungarian Empire’s heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, leading to the chain reaction we know as World War-1 (WW-1). By the time it ended on November 10, 1918, it had claimed 20 million lives, maimed as many, crippled the British, Ottoman, and Russian empires toppled ‘eternal’ monarchy in China, sparked anti-colonial movements across the world, including India…Several new nations mushroomed on the unburied corpses along redrawn bloodied borders.

The WW-1 burnt the stubble left by the imperial crops and prepared the soil for the Second. It was followed by a pandemic, influenza, which claimed some 50 million lives, including 18 million in India alone—irreversibly weakening the British Indian Army and making it impossible for London to retain the Jewel in the Crown which became too heavy for its Head of State to wear. With a lame Britain bandaged, Germany discovered Adolf Hitler to run amuck…

A century on, we are in the midst of another pandemic (Covid-19), and drumbeats of another potentially great war with its theatre shifting from Europe to Central Asia. The two World Wars predominantly affected the Christians and ended their hegemony; the gathering war in Central Asia could mainly be focused on the Muslims.

This has rattled Russia and China the most. Russia has the largest Muslim population in Europe (one-fifth of the total 140 million, or 25 million). The Muslim population in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is estimated up to 80 million. Most of these Muslims habit areas next to the Muslim dominated Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the last three bordering Afghanistan, which, together have some 100 million Muslims. Add to this Pakistan’s 220 million, and Iran’s 84 million. These nearly 520 million Muslims could be the Taliban’s potential ‘catchment area’. Reports said the Taliban have trained some 40,000 Uyghur Muslims in Badakshan province of Afghanistan as Mujahideens to be sent to liberate China-controlled East Turkestan (Xinjiang).

These Muslim nations are, therefore, frightened of possible Islamist pollination due to the second flowering of the Taliban in an unstable Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion of Kabul in 1979 had, in a blowback, dismantled the USSR itself by 1991; now Moscow is afraid of a repeat of 1991 in 2021 with the Taliban more-than-ever resourceful and ready to go for the Russian jugular. This has forced Moscow to reassure its former satellite Muslim Soviet Republics with protection, continue to conduct the military exercises with Tajikistan, and even claimed the former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled with a wealth of $50 million, which remains unconfirmed.

More than Russia, however, China is mortally scared of the Taliban’s next moves—in Pakistan. Any possible creation of a “Greater Pakhtunistan” would quickly bomb out the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and with it, the $280 billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’s 1,500 projects across Asia, Africa, and Europe. The cascading effect, like a collapsing house of cards, could encourage Xinjiang and Tibet to break away, disintegrate the Communist Party and China it leads, and topple the Xi Jinping regime itself…

Simply put, the Taliban 2.0 recapture of Afghanistan is not a one-off phenomenon confined to a landlocked, medieval country riven with tribal identities. It is a veritable flood that not just threatens to spill over across the Central Asian borders, it may also disintegrate the existing Russia and China.

Predictably, vested interests are trying to overplay or underplay the entirely new date, August 15, 2021, marking their geopolitical calendar. Or September 1, 2021, when the Taliban crowns itself in Kabul, as a reversal of September 11, 2001.

Working to a hard-bound script?

Remember: Coincidences? After fleeing Kabul, Ashraf Ghani surfaced in the US-friendly UAE. The Taliban permitted his aircraft to ‘flee’ from the Kabul airport they controlled! And Ghani, whom the US made the President in 2014, was “unaware” of the American troops secretly moving out of Kabul at night! His Vice-President Amrullah Saleh, who now claims to be the “caretaker” President, did not even know about his chief’s sudden flight—because Saleh is a Tajik, not Pashtun!!

In another America-friendly Doha, Qatar, Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad had stitched up the deal with the Taliban Co-Founder Mullah Abdul Ghani “Baradar” (Brother) in February 2020; Baradar, the Taliban’s political chief, remained a guest in Doha for some three years, from where he flew back into Kabul only last week.

Khalilzad is an ethnic Pashtun from the Noorzai tribe, as is the Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada; Baradar is a Durrani Pashtun from Sadozai tribe, and the ex-President is a Pashtun from the Ahmedzai tribe. Tribal affiliations of Afghans are far stronger driving forces than Islam. The three Pashtuns know this tribal code and worked in unison. That was why the Taliban extended amnesty to the ex-President.

Remember also: In July, the U.S. shut its military bases in Qatar that had warehouses full of weaponry and transferred the remaining supplies to Jordan, enabling Washington to deal better with Iran. It reflected the military’s “changing priorities in the region”. 

There are also extra players in the unfolding opera. After initial claims, Turkey backed out of its desire to control Kabul airport–the Taliban suspected it of being too close to Iran. And British PM Boris Johnson, after initial anti-Taliban bravado, came around within a week. Apparently onboarded late, he meekly declared that London would do business with the Taliban “if necessary.” Notably, the British Parliament had already condemned China for the “genocide” of Uyghur Muslims.

About two dozen US diplomats in Kabul, unaware of what their own Deep State was doing, warned in a confidential internal cable sent on July 13 to Secretary of State Antony Blinken of the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban if the US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal said. But the US went ahead: clearly, Washington had not kept its own diplomats in the loop.

The Deep State may have kept the entire geopolitical operation so secret that even the White House, Defense Department, and State Department were furious as they were, apparently, kept out of the loop. Two US Congress members—Representatives Seth Moulton (Democrat) and Peter Meijer (Republican)– flew in on August 24 on a charter aircraft unannounced into Kabul airport in the middle of the ongoing chaotic evacuation, stunning the State Department and US military personnel. They were on the ground at the airport for several hours, media reported, without probing why they came and whom they met.

Joining the dots, away from the usually ill-informed media frenzy and comments/analyses by Jurassic era experts and diplomats, we can sketch the emerging larger picture.

Not that some of the game players were unaware of these developments. To start with, the ISIS-Khorasan, an Islamabad-backed outfit, condemned the Taliban as an American stooge, and suicide-bombed Kabul airport this week, killing over 200, to send message that the Taliban did not have support of all Afghans.

That was why neither Khalilzad nor Akhundzada, Commander of the Faithful (Amir-ul-Momineen) of the Taliban, have been seen in public.  Apparently, Khalilzad returned to the US after seeding the geopolitical field.  Akhundzada is said to be in Pakistan’s custody, the way Baradar was until 2018 when the US got him released for talks leading to the deal. Islamabad may pit Akhundzada as a bargaining chip, should Baradar, the next potential President, go ‘astray’. In that event, Pakistan may support Akhundzada as the Emir of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan! And try to throw a spanner in the Taliban works for the creation of the “Greater Pashtunistan”.

If Islamabad has such fantastical dreams, it does not know the Pashtuns!

The Taliban may have anticipated it. Soon after they recaptured Kabul on August 15, they released their own bargaining chips, around 2,500 members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from Afghan jails, forcing Islamabad to rush Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar to beseech the Taliban to make sure they did not attack Pakistan, in general, and the CPEC, in particular.

So, as the Taliban prepare to take on Xinjiang, they will use the TTP to keep Pakistan in check.

They were preparing for a long haul. First, the Ghani government was reported to have sacked at least six anti-Taliban army commanders some weeks ago; secondly, the government itself had systematically disarmed its own soldiers at many places which eased the militia’s victories, without delay and much bloodshed; thirdly, the American-led western armed forces left behind arms and ammunitions worth around $250 million which fell into the Taliban hands. The US had ‘invested’ nearly $ 1 trillion in Afghanistan in 20 years. This included $85 billion on the defense of which $ 25 billion were on arms and ammunition.

No investor can be so foolish as to let go of such a humongous investment down the drain, without returns. There must be a method in this madness.

And Washington has also kept the Taliban in check, just in case…!

So, Afghanistan may have nearly 200 fighter aircraft but most of them are grounded for being junk or want of spare parts not provided for years; also, their fighter pilots have mostly fled or grounded. Moreover, the US has frozen nearly $9.5 billion worth of Afghan Central Bank’s assets and the World Bank and the IMF halted aid.

These taps will be reopened when the Taliban work according to the plan!

And their time starts on September 1, 2021!

(Concluded)

US ‘debacle’ in Afghanistan? As clear as mud!

Those stuck in the mud of history believe in the Spanish proverb: “The more the world changes, the more it remains the same.” But geopolitics is run by Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong will go wrong.”

So, for those still stuck in classical hypotheses, Afghanistan is a Vietnam-type ‘debacle’ for America and a victory for China and Pakistan!

Now let us consider the following:

On December 25, 2008, Mark Landler’s piece The New York Times, titled “Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble”, unfolded the roots of the global economic crisis.

China had parked $ 1 trillion in US Treasury bonds, exports, investments, etc, which it nearly threatened to withdraw to bring America to its knees….In other words, China was trying to ‘financially colonize’ America, something no other country, not even USSR, had done!

Suddenly woken up from dogmatic slumber, Washington was alarmed with the Dragon’s torpedo. Its “Deep State”, apparently, worked on how to counter China during the Obama years (2009-16), and through the Donald Trump presidency (2017-2020).

By that time, China had hurriedly debt-trapped some of those 60-plus countries that had signed up for its ultra-ambitious, $ 200 billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) across Asia, Africa, and Europe. This included the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that would have given direct access to Beijing into the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. A broke Islamabad was almost a satellite client of Beijing that had, ironically, sabotaged Islam systematically across the People’s Republic of China, particularly in the Uyghur Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province bordering Afghanistan.

As the American strategy unfolded, it became clearer that it aimed to checkmate China in Afghanistan itself, where it had earlier halted the Soviet Union on a similar quest for warm water ports in the Arabian Sea. An atheist China, like Communist Russia, could be vanquished in the monotheist Islamic world, as it were.

There were two obstacles, however: the Israel-Arab quagmire and the Taliban conundrum.

The Trump administration succeeded in bringing on board Israel, the UAE (presumably, therefore, the Saudis as well), and Bahrain to sign the “Abraham Accords” in Washington in September 2019. Also, the Saudi-Israel relationship improved with then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s not-too-secret and well-publicized air dash to a Saudi town.

The Trump Administration’s next step was Afghanistan where it sought to replant the Taliban as a borderless militia to destabilize not only Pakistan’s Baluchistan and the proposed “Greater Pashtunistan”, but also Tajikistan and Uzbekistan whose Islamic spill-over to Xinjiang was expected. In other words, an Islamic insurgency across Central Asia aiming to liberate Xinjiang from China.

US representative Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat, led the US delegation to several rounds of talks with the Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar. They finally signed an agreement on February 29, 2020, securing the Islamic militia’s guarantee to protect America and its allies’ interests in Afghanistan. In return, the US promised to withdraw its forces and non-diplomatic staff from Afghanistan completely in 14 months—that is by the end of May 2021.

Here is a link to this agreement:

https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf

The US-Taliban agreement repeatedly clarified that “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban group”. While it sought to assure the Afghanistan government it supported that it still remained the legitimate one, it also assured the Taliban that “the US will request the recognition and endorsement of the United Nations Security Council for this agreement”–with a non-state actor designated as a terrorist outfit by the Council itself!

Clearly, if the agreement collapsed, the US had an escape route: it could always claim it had not recognized the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan!

It was now China’s turn to help America!

Twelve days after this agreement, the WHO declared Covid-19 as a pandemic (March 11, 2020). Between March 16 and 30, 2020, Trump used the words “Chinese virus” more than 20 times, nailing the phrase in the global media that Beijing was ‘responsible for the outbreak of the pandemic. By resisting the WHO’s attempts to go to the bottom of the truth, China only heightened suspicion, at the risk of becoming the global pariah.

That was when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong with China.

And the real geopolitical game began…

(To be continued)

Karma: Zia’s ‘thousand cuts’ return to haunt Pak, China!

Indians believe in cyclical history; they know that karma is a postman who never forgets addresses, and delivers all mail diligently. Others who believe in a linear history pretend to forget and are condemned to relive it.

China and Pakistan, ‘all-weather friends’, are also reliving their history.

Remember Pakistan’s sixth President General Muhammed Zia ul-Haq? In 1977, he usurped power, and guillotined his mentor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had vowed to fight India for a thousand years! Zia launched Islamabad’s re-Islamization drive and unveiled a ‘policy of thousand cuts’ against India to avenge Pakistan’s dismemberment and the birth of Bangladesh. Even Pakistanis mocked him: Zia, the migrant son of a vegetable vendor from Delhi could only practice fast-cutting sabzi in Rawalpindi!

These cuts, he dreamt, would bleed India interminably. He blended his army with the obliging mullahs, founded, funded, sponsored, armed, trained, and launched several Islamic terrorist outfits against India, and seduced Sikh separatists with a “Khalistan” dream.

But he forgot something. India had started the PIN Code-based mail delivery system on August 15, 1972, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Independence while Pakistan was mourning the loss of Bangladesh. By 1988, karma traced out Zia’s PIN Code as well: he was killed in an air crash, leaving behind a lot of undelivered mail.

Come rain or shine, karma had to fish out Zia’s successors. It did find two of them: one whom he had thrust on the Pakistani cricket team through the backdoor is now Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi. He is from the same tribe as Lt. General AAK Niazi who had abjectly surrendered 94,000 Pakistani soldiers before Lt. General Jagjit Singh Aurora in Dhaka in 1971; Niazi had the dubious distinction of being the only Ghazi (Holy Warrior) in the Islamic history of 1,400 years to have surrendered lock-stock-and-barrel to an infidel army commander!

The other addressee is China’s President-for-Life Xi Jinping who had warehoused his own inventory of karma after Chairman Mao Zedong purged his father Xi Zhongxun and exiled the family during the Cultural Revolution. Jinping followed his mentor Deng Xiaoping’s advice: hide your strength and bide your time. He became China’s President in 2013 and President-for-Life in 2018, forgot Deng, unveiled Dragon’s fangs, and rushed into expansionist mode; after marrying thrice, the last wife being a genie-owner, Imran Khan became Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 2018 and put his country on the irreversible path of destruction.

Now return of the thousand cuts…

That Pakistan is a bankrupt, failed state and rogue nation is an understatement. Islamabad follows Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will! So, this South Asian is plagued with multiple organ failure syndromes. It is becoming a terror-infested basket case. And to cap it all, its former ‘slave’ Taliban became master of Kabul on August 15!

Cut to another. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is as far away from the Chinese people and republicanism. It is a revanchist, crushing democracy in Hong Kong and Tibet, charged with the genocide of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. It is punishing the makers of Modern China, like Jack Ma; it is charged with starting a biological war against others by releasing the coronavirus in 2020; it has lost the trust of all nations—except two: its client states Pakistan and North Korea, who, in their own right are viewed as Gangrenes of Asia.

More cuts are on the way: the Taliban’s threat in Xinjiang which may potentially trigger disintegration of China itself; the Taliban’s attempts to create a Greater Pashtunistan by splitting both Afghanistan and Pakistan…

To pin down the Dragon, the four-democracy-caucus—US, UK, Australia, and India—is working on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) to set up an Asian version of NATO against China; the South China Sea is heating up; India has refused to let 1962 be repeated in 2022…and that festering wound: Taiwan. Every country is trying to undermine China: its $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is bleeding both Islamabad and Beijing; many of the client countries it had debt-trapped through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Malaysia are trying to wriggle out of the Dragon’s talons…

But the cherry on the Chinese cake dropped from the unlikeliest place: even a minnow has ignored the fire-spitting Dragon!

A small northeastern European nation Lithuania, with a population of less than three million, took the giant step this week of allowing Taiwan to open its embassy in the Baltic country. An infuriated China recalled its ambassador.

“The decision brazenly violates the spirit of the communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Lithuania and severely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

It showed the desperation of a country that has mastered and pioneered the art of brazenly violating all international decencies and the spirit of dialogue with every single nation.

Lithuania knew the Dragon could only bark, not bite; it did not budge an inch.

The Baltic nation has already scored gains and Washington loves it. In June, it was announced that the 2023 NATO Summit would be held in Lithuania, and former President Dalia Grybauskaite may emerge as a serious contender for the role of its Secretary-General.

Remember, also, that Lithuania was the first country to declare its independence from the USSR on March 11, 1990; it started a chain reaction, and the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist on December 26, 1991.

The Polar Bear sank in the Baltic Sea; now the Dragon may as well!

Why China dreads Xinjiang and Tibet?

Nothing worries China more than the potential independence of two ‘rebel’ provinces it continues to occupy by force. China has tried to completely colonize the “autonomous” region it claims as Xijang but the world knows as Tibet, and another “autonomous” region it named as Xinjiang (“New Territory”) whose original name was Eastern Turkestan. Beijing had annexed Xinjiang in the 1750s and Tibet in the 1950s when the British emerged in and eclipsed from South Asia.

Ever since, China has been trying to change their DNAs—Buddhism and Islam—by adopting carrot and stick policies, homogenization, alleged genocide, etc. But it realizes that the two key provinces, bordering South Asia, are, at best, cultural anomalies for an atheist China. An uneasy, rented occupation, which could become the first to throw out the Chinese yoke the way the predominantly Muslim provinces broke away from the disintegrating Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Xinjiang and Xijang are, therefore, China’s X factors. The unknowns. The variables. No other Chinese provinces are seen like time-bombs ticking in the Dragon’s belly.

That is why a worried China is now trying to woo the Tibetans and the Taliban.

In November 2020, the US Congress passed a bipartisan resolution by voice vote recognizing the autonomy of Tibetan culture and religion, and praised the Dalai Lama, proposing to hold a roundtable or a teleconference with him. It pressed for human rights in the Buddhist region.

Congressman Eliot Engel said the US State Department had found that the Chinese government had systematically impeded travel to Tibetan Autonomous Region areas for US diplomats, officials, journalists and tourists.

As expected, China condemned and rejected it. But the seed was sown.

Six months later, in July 2021, the US-led “War on Terror” virtually ended when the American soldiers secretly left Afghanistan in the dead of night without even informing President Ashraf Ghani they had been supporting so far. Not only this, the 36-nation forces also left behind a huge cache of arms and ammunition, apparently for the resurgent Taliban who, by August, are expected to regain control of the mountainous country.

China is aware that Afghanistan has been the “graveyard of superpowers” like the British, Russians and Americans. And, as they say in Afghanistan, the Afghans are at peace only when they are at war! The Taliban, therefore, are sure to discover a new battleground—and Xinjiang eminently fits into their Islamist architecture.

China is trying to keep the Taliban in good humour. The Taliban are also playing the game they must until they get Kabul. They are aware how China has crushed the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) supporters, many of whom the terrorist militia has been training for launching attacks on Chinese interests in Xinjiang. And also that Beijing has been running a drive against both Islam and Christianity to erase their vestiges, including identity of mosques and churches. In other words, China is engaged in a vast programme of deIslamization.

This the Taliban are expected to pay back to China. And this is also seen as part of the agreement between the US and the Taliban.

A sudden Chinese interest in Tibet is also interesting. For the first time in three decades, a Chinese President, Xi Jinping, visited Lhasa, and even a Buddhist shrine, to mollify the six million angry Tibetans scattered across the world that Beijing looks for a harmonious relationship with this “autonomous” region.

Then came the real news: China has made it mandatory for every Tibetan family to send one member to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for what it believes would strengthen its military deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India, especially in extreme weather areas like Ladakh in the west and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, media reported.

The Chinese army is recruiting Tibetan youths and training them for operations along the LAC with India. The recruits have been made to take a loyalty test, including learning the mainland Chinese language and accepting the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over any other belief. This, China hopes, would bind the Tibetan youths with their government.

This recruitment began early in 2021 after China learnt how the Tibetans-in-Exile brilliantly served the Indian Army. The Tibetans living in India have been part of an elite Special Frontier Force (SFF) formed after the 1962 war. Since then, this unit has been part of important operations during the 1971 war against Pakistan, the Kargil conflict in 1999 and also in the Sino-Indian conflict in Ladakh last year. These Tibetan youths

surprised the PLA on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake last year when they physically occupied the Mokhpari, Black Top and other heights in the view of Chinese aggression along the LAC.

They are China’s ‘T’ factors.

The Taliban’s return: New battlefronts for China, Pakistan!

In one fell swoop—suddenly withdrawing its army overnight from Afghanistan—America has completely changed geopolitical equations against China. The resurgent Taliban may become Beijing’s nemesis and Islamabad’s graveyard, the way mountainous Afghanistan had become the graveyard for the British, Soviet and American forces.

Utter confusion in the two ‘all-weather allies is showing up in both China and Pakistan; they do not know how to recalibrate their policies about Afghanistan…and India.

Pakistan, in particular, has a sense of betrayal not only from Beijing but also from fellow Islamists of the Taliban it created, funded, sponsored, armed, and launched against enemies. On its border with India, it is petrified of the substandard Chinese military supplies; on its border with Afghanistan, it is paranoid with the unpredictable Taliban.

Recent media reports indicate the level of distrust between China and Pakistan as well, despite their protestations to the contrary.

One report said that Beijing has sold substandard equipment to the Pakistan Army, making it vulnerable to any Indian attacks. Another report said that China, distrustful of Pakistan, has sent it’s own ‘armed workers’—soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles—to finish incomplete infrastructural projects, in the midst of terrorist attacks against them.

The first report indicated that China is not properly responding to the Pakistani Army’ concerns that their air defence systems deployed on the eastern borders with India was endangered due to technical failures.

The Chinese-built portable air defence systems, artillery rocket systems and surface-to-air missile systems, worth millions of dollars, are riddled with technical and operational deficiencies. Because of this, as many as 850 man-portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs), both launchers and missiles, have become dysfunctional, leaving a serious gap in air defence on its borders.

The Chinese-made FN-16 MANPADS were designed to intercept low altitude and ultralow altitude air targets like enemy helicopters and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles under visual conditions. But most of these systems are handicapped by defective surface-to-air night aiming and battleground signalling systems. Without these systems, the MANPADs are literally blind.

The Chinese manufacturer, Wuhan Infrared Co. Ltd, instead of quickly replacing or repairing the systems, has appointed an allied firm, Valiant Technologies, to sort out the mess. Equally serious problems afflict over 500 QW 18 MANPAD launchers imported from China.

These systems were supposed to counter aerial threats and have a range of 6 km with a speed of 600 metres per second. It boasts of high anti-jamming and multi-tracking capability.

The MANPADs form part of a larger contract of supply of 1,300 systems with China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC). About 500 of these systems were inducted into the Pakistan Army in 2016. Numerous deficiencies were found in these systems during biennial functional testing of these systems at the army base workshops since July 2019. The army has asked CPMIEC to replace at least 47 of these systems along with one base control unit and one training simulator.

The story of multiple launch artillery systems, A-100, also bought from China, is similar. It was manufactured by the China state-run Aerospace Long-March International Trade Co (ALIT).

The A-100, incidentally rejected even by the Chinese Army, was inducted into Pakistan Army. During field trials, the Pakistan Army found it wanting in many respects. Even the Chinese manufacturer concluded that the systems had to be replaced as they were beyond repairs.

These problems are causing a serious headache in the forward air defence positions of the Pakistan Army which comes on top of the persisting issue of the defective Chinese-made LY80 surface-to-air missile systems.

These reports of substandard Chinese supplies to Pakistan have come at a time when the Taliban are about to take back control of Afghanistan after the sudden withdrawal of American troops, something neither Islamabad nor Beijing were ready for. The American move has made both Xinjiang vulnerable to China and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) to Pakistan.

For, they fear, under the new global realignment of forces, the Taliban may become Washington’s militant arm against Beijing the way it was against Moscow two decades ago. That is why China is trying to coax the Taliban to shun terrorism and recalibrate adjustment.

The Taliban now control nearly 250 districts, out of 400, in Afghanistan, and Beijing is apprehensive of their designs in Xinjiang, imperilling the entire Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through the restive regions like POK and Baluchistan.

Afghanistan is a key link between China and Central Asian republics, and Beijing envisions a “Pamir Group” of Afghanistan, China and Pakistan, with a new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China.

However, America’s masterstroke in arranging the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan has drastically changed geopolitics and put paid to China’s global ambitions. Apparently, the US has successfully persuaded the Taliban to join hands against China, the bigger foe, which has not only tried ‘genocide’ of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang but also attempted to wipe out the identities of even mosques and churches across the country.

Now, China is paranoid about insecurity overspill from Afghanistan and fears that it could become a safe haven for Xinjiang terrorists, whose trouble could further spill over to Central Asia and the Chinese mainland.

With China’s relentless efforts to blot out Islam from across the land, Beijing genuinely fears that Afghanistan could become a launchpad for the revengeful Taliban and for separatist activities targeting the iron rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Xinjiang.

For long, Beijing has been blaming the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a shadowy group it accuses of seeking Islamic rule in Xinjiang, of fomenting trouble in the restive, Muslim-majority province. Recent reports suggested that hundreds of ETIM terrorists were being trained by the intrepid Taliban in the Badakhshan area bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China. China and Afghanistan share a 76-km-long border which Beijing knows is porous for Uyghur fighters.

The CPEC was supposed to be extended to Afghanistan as well. This extension included projects like a motorway linking Peshawar and Kabul, and a trans-Afghan highway joining Pakistan to Central Asia. Afghanistan could have become a promising notch in the BRI.

As in Pakistan, where China is alarmed by attacks from militant groups like the Baluchistan Liberation Army, it fears uncontrolled attacks against Chinese interests in Afghanistan as well. The July 14 terror attack, in which nine Chinese workers and six Pakistanis died in a dam project, have heightened China’s fears, despite the Taliban’s ‘assurances’ as Beijing knows they are as unreliable as itself!

This particular incident has prompted China to deploy its armed men as ‘construction workers’ in the CPEC projects.

And Pakistan is in no position to say no to Beijing!

Thus Spake a scared Xi Jinping: ‘Be Loyal to Me’

Counting enemies outside the Great Wall of China, Beijing is now apprehensive of the foes lurking within. Having antagonized the world with alleged involvement in the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, and debt-trapping many poor countries, China is increasingly wary of a possible storm gathering within.

And the new threat is not just from within the Communist Party of China (CPC), or the demoralized People’s Liberation Army (PLA), mauled by India in East Ladakh last year, but also from the dispirited business leaders post-Jack Ma meltdown, and the influential middle class scouting for happiness beyond bread-and-butter, by seeking political liberties. Besides, the burning issues of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan have never been on the backburner.

The Dragon is trying to fight forest fire with the fire it is spewing.

Currently, China is facing growing global hostility over the Covid-19 origins, and allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. Its mammoth projects under the USD 4 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have rather turned into millstones around the Dragon’s neck. For the first time in history, Beijing has successfully united its former friends and new enemies.

These growing uncertainties without and within have even forced President-for-Life Xi Jinping on June 18 to extract oath of ‘personal’ loyalty from his hand-picked top brass of the Communist Party of China (CPC), whom he suspects of colluding with his enemies.

The unprecedented and publicly televised pledge of loyalty followed after reports of alleged ‘defection’ of Dong Jingwei, Vice Minister of State Security—top spy chief—along with his daughter Dong Yang, via Hong Kong in mid-February to the USA. There, it was claimed, he disclosed everything about the Wuhan Institute of Virology which is at the centre of the coronavirus-leak hypothesis.

The viral rumour was so embarrassing that Dong had to direct his spies to look for rebels within. But this incident itself showed the extent of mistrust in top echelons of China.

In the 1990s, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had sown the wind with his four-pronged modernization; in the 2020s, Xi Jinping fears he will have to reap the whirlwind.

What happens when a vulnerable leader suspects those around, his own followers? Invariably, he extracts from them an oath of loyalty!

That is exactly what Xi did on Friday (June 18, 2021).

As China’s ruling CPC prepares to celebrate centenary celebrations on July 1, Xi publicly administered a loyalty pledge to senior Communist leaders, urging them to follow the “leadership core”—that is himself!—and strive for the country’s modernization and revival. This when Xi has supposedly emerged as the second strongest leader of the CPC in the last 100 years, next only to its founder, Chairman Mao Zedong.

The incident demonstrated his deep-seated fears of disloyalty within the CPC which has a membership of over 90 million across the land. The CPC, which had officially declared him as the “core leader” when he took power in December 2012, he thinks, is the first one to be won over to avert any possible rebellion against his leadership.

To reach the pinnacle of power and pelf, Xi has antagonised several CPC leaders and their families by targeting them under the alibi of rooting out corruption. Similarly, his regime has rubbed the country’s billionaires like Jack Ma, the PLA, and other sections of society by rubbing them the wrong way on different issues.

On Friday, therefore, he was forced to publicly extract an oath of loyalty from the CPC leaders during a visit to an exhibition at the newly-inaugurated museum of the CPC in Beijing.     

Standing ahead of the 25-member Politburo of the CPC, which included his No 2 leader Premier Li Keqiang, Xi administered the pledge which was telecast by the pliant state-run television channels.

The CPC, founded by Mao Zedong in 1921, has been in power since the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. The ruling party has, as part of the centenary celebrations on July 1, planned several events, including a military parade.     

Xi, 67, who succeeded his predecessor Hu Jintao in December 2012, quickly consolidated his position and concentrated power by heading the party, the powerful military and the presidency. He was conferred title of the “core” leader, thus doing away with the collective leadership of his predecessors.     

In his June 18 speech, Xi called on the members of the CPC to draw strength from the party’s history and strive for China’s modernisation and national rejuvenation.     

He said, “It is necessary for you to strengthen your awareness of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central party leadership,” state-run Xinhua news agency reported.     

Xi is originally set to retire like his predecessors after his second term in 2023, but is expected to continue for life as the top legislature National People’s Congress (NPC) amended the Constitution in 2018, removing two five-year term limits. It paved the way for his lifelong tenure in power, as President-for-Life.     

In the pledge administered, the members also said, “It is my will to join the Communist Party of China, uphold the party programme, observe the party’s Constitution, fulfil my party member duties, carry out party decisions, strictly observe party discipline, guard party secrets, be loyal to the party, work hard, fight for Communism throughout my life and to be ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the party and people and never betray the party.”

The exhibition themed “staying true to the founding mission,” was opened on Friday at the newly-inaugurated Museum of the CPC in Beijing ahead of the CPC centenary.

In his speech, Xi said the party members should remain confident in the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics, as well as always closely follow the CPC Central Committee in terms of their thinking, political orientation and actions.     

“The party’s history is the most vivid and convincing textbook,” Xi stressed.

Efforts should be made to educate and guide Party members and officials to stay true to the original aspiration and founding mission of the party, Xi noted.     

More than 2,600 pictures and 3,500 artifacts about the party’s history are on display at the exhibition.

The Great Game of the 21st century begins: China’s BRI versus G-7’s B3W

So the Great Game of the 21st century has begun: Eight years after China began its One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme—later rechristened as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)–the Group of Seven Nations (G-7) has announced its own “Build Back Better World (B3W)—a mammoth plan with potential investments worth USD 40 trillion by 2035 across the globe, vis-à-vis BRI’s USD 3.7 trillion worth of projects.

In May, US President Joe Biden had hinted at it in his telephonic conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the 47th Summit of G-7 leaders, which is underway at Cornwall, UK, from June 11 to 13.

On the opening day itself, G-7 unveiled a global infrastructure plan called B3W to counter Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar BRI. This amply demonstrated the G-7 members’ concerns about Beijing’s growth geopolitical footprint and the urgent need to counter it.

The first major step to counter China in geopolitics was the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), in which America has lined up three more democracies—Australia, Japan, and India. With the B3W initiative, Washington is drafting contours of the second front against Beijing in the 21st century, the way it had set up like NATO, CENTO, SEATO, etc. against the then rival Soviet Union after the Second World War.

“Build Back Better World” (B3W), will be a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies and intended to facilitate the building of infrastructure in poorer nations, a US  statement said.

“The adoption of the US-inspired “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project came after President Joe Biden and leaders met to address “strategic competition with China and commit to concrete actions to help meet the tremendous infrastructure need in low- and middle-income countries”, the White House said.

The B3W initiative will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035, it said.

“B3W will collectively catalyse hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in the coming years,” said the White House.

The G-7 is more transparent with respect to its funding as opposed to China. The B3W project plans to put more emphasis on the environment and climate, labor safeguards, transparency, and anti-corruption.

In a veiled criticism of China’s approach to financing BRI projects, the White House said B3W investments would be led by “a responsible and market-driven private sector, paired with high standards and transparency in public funding”.

“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior official in the Biden’s administration said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.” the statement added.

The 47th G7 summit is currently being held in Cornwall in the UK. Participants include the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US and representatives from the European Union.

The new infrastructure plan is recognition of the growing challenge mounted by Beijing’s BRI, a mammoth infrastructure project, with the most ambitious being the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking China’s Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea.

More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways, and other infrastructure. With many BRI projects leading to debt restructuring, it has faced strong domestic opposition in various countries. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have canceled some projects, while China’s aggressive stance has forced others to do a rethink. Even the Opposition parties have expressed apprehension about CPEC in Pakistan. Beijing has faced accusations of operating as a predatory lender setting up debt traps for its ‘client’ countries like Pakistan.