$400 Billion Iran-China Treaty and US Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan – How worried should India be?

| Chandrashekar TS
Iran has signed a 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China worth $400 Billion with investments in various sectors
  • For the first time in history, China which was moving towards the East is turning to South Asia and the Middle East and trying to play a role in the Indian Ocean region.
  • China’s interest in Iran was bolstered by decades of Anti-American sentiments there. 
  • China’s aim would also be to contain India’s presence in the Middle-East and cut its influence and relations with Iran.
  • A destabilized Afghanistan can have its effect on India as they can support terror organizations in Kashmir and aid forces who can indulge in hijacking, kidnapping, drugs trade and other anti-national activities.
  • For India the happenings in the Middle East, one in Iran and other in Afghanistan, will be a test to its geopolitical strategy.  

Bilateral, regional and global relationships of India are getting changed across land, air and water boundaries. On one hand China has become more assertive and aggressive on its neighbors in its borders areas. It is threatening India directly and indirectly at all the fronts, both internally and externally. It has surrounded India like a string of pearls and is moving one step forward to get Iran in the Middle East in its orbit. On the other hand in Afghanistan, American Troops are withdrawing by May 1. 

Will the Taliban reclaim the land to enforce its deadly Islamist Ideology? Will the troop withdrawal create space for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, International Terror organizations, Pakistan and its ISI to create ruckus once more? Will terror elements from Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Northern Africa, Somalia find a safe haven in Taliban’s Afghanistan? What effect will it have on India? Let us analyze the role of Iran, China, Moscow in Kabul from India’s security perspective. 

Americans themselves did not expect they would be spending nearly two decades in a never ending war in Afghanistan. America has spent nearly $2 Trillion for its war in Afghanistan. Every Presidential Election for the last 20 Years has had debates on Troops withdrawal. At its peak, there were 120000 American Troops to fight the Taliban. Now less than 2500 remain. American troops have lost 2300 soldiers with 20,660 injuries.

The Taliban is expected to grow stronger after the foreign troop withdrawal is complete

According to the Doha Truce agreement, the US wants to bring back their Troops from Afghanistan so that the Taliban will have to share power or agree to a truce with the present Afghanistan Government. The treaty states that Afghanistan will not be used for Anti-America activity and they will not join or support Al Qaeda or any other International Terror Organizations. 

However the question is would the Taliban with its religious ideology based on medieval concepts adjust to the modern day? Human Rights Abuse, Suppression of Women Rights, Minority assault, Religious persecution, destroying Historical Monuments, no freedom of faith and no right to dissent are prevalent even now in the territory they control. Recently it was reported that the Taliban did not even allow NGO’s to carry out  COVID-19 Test or vaccinations. Once the US troops are withdrawn they may join the outside fundamentalist forces and non-state actors and destabilize the country.

The Iran-China Axis

Iran has signed a 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China worth $400 Billion with investments in Banking, Telecom, Special Economic Zones, Health Care, Railways, IT, and more.  In addition to massive infrastructure investments, the agreement envisions closer cooperation on defense and intelligence sharing, and is rumored to include discounts for Iranian oil. If finalized, China would gain massive influence in this geo-politically critical region, and give a lifeline to the sanctioned Iran. 

China’s interest in Iran was bolstered by decades of Anti-American sentiments there. Further, Iran is fighting the US and other Western democracies which are opposed to China too. Iran has a large military. It has a vast reserve of Hydrogen and controls 15% of the world’s oil reserve. China can use its currency ‘renminbi’ to trade in oil instead of the US Dollar. Importantly China wants to engage in joint military exercises, research and weapons development and intelligence sharing. 

China thinks if they can penetrate Iran, they can also have a say in the Middle Eastern affairs and can engage in Yemen, Syria and Azerbaijan. China’s aim would also be to contain India’s presence in the Middle-East and cut its influence and relations with Iran. As Pakistan becomes a burden, China would benefit from dealing with a powerful country which has fought sanctions and which will also give more teeth to its anti-US strategy.

Impact on India 

Anti-US sentiments and sanctions on both have brought Iran and China closer than ever before

A destabilized Afghanistan can have its effect on India as they can support terror organizations in Kashmir and aid forces who can indulge in hijacking, kidnapping, drugs trade and other anti-national activities. India on its own has invested more than $3 Billion dollars in Afghan reconstruction and development. From building the parliament to roads, highways, hospitals, leasing fighter aircraft to police training, India has made its mark in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. 

Will this reconstruction, democratic elections and Afghanistan coming to the mainstream be hindered by the re-rise of Taliban? Will the Taliban, Russia, China come together along with Pakistan to counter India? If countries like Iran are getting trapped by China, the Taliban could be a prey too. 

For India the happenings in the Middle East, one in Iran and other in Afghanistan, will be a test to its geo-political strategy. For the first time in history, China which was moving towards the east is turning to South Asia and the Middle East and trying to play a role in the Indian Ocean region. It is forging bilateral relations to become a major player at the regional and global levels. This is sure to affect India’s supply chain, energy needs and security. Many Indians work in the Middle East and send a lot of remittances. Resource-wise, oil is important to India. Any hiccups in this, there will be implications on its energy security. 

Towards a Free World

India, like the world’s major democracies, wants Freedom of Navigation, Rules based Order and freedom in supply chain movement. However, if Afghanistan falls to Taliban and in the future they go with China, and if Iran falls into the debt-trap of China, the repercussions will not augur well for the region.

In late June former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad warned that policymakers were “handing Iran’s purse to other countries without informing the nation.” Former conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, suggested on Twitter that before signing the pact Iran should raise the fate of Muslims who are reportedly being persecuted in China. Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, an exiled opposition leader, too has opposed the deal calling it ‘despicable’ as it would lead to the plunder of Iran’s natural resources and allow a foreign army in their homeland.

China wants countries to subjugate themselves to its whims like North Korea. It has turned Pakistan into its vassal and Iran could be next. Further, if Taliban too also falls prey to the machinations of China, then South Asia and Middle East will be in further chaos, a scenario not favored by India or any other democratic country in the world. For now, India has to discuss the next steps with the QUAD and other like minded countries to check the growth of China.

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