China's Afghan Tar Baby

Is America's defeat China's opportunity?

The world is watching agog and, largely, gleefully as America's twenty-year occupation of Afghanistan collapses in a vastly expensive and entirely avoidable horror due entirely to the choices made by Joe Biden, best described by Prime Minister Tony Blair as "imbecilic" in a classic example of British understatement.

As nation-states do, our rivals stand ready to exploit our craven failures.  Russia archly pointed out that its embassy in Kabul was still open and fully functional, unlike our abandoned billion-dollar one, and China proudly proclaimed that its embassy was both open and ready for "friendly and cooperative" relations with the Taliban.

When Russia's President Putin was a young man, the Soviet Union was engaged in a bloody war of occupation in Afghanistan, not too dissimilar from our own, which ended in much the same result - except that the retreat was carried out in a far more competent manner which resulted in far less devastating optics.  It must fill Putin's heart with glee to see his old great enemies receive such a comeuppance at the hands of his old little enemies.  Having learned the lesson so recently, it's pretty unlikely Russia will again meddle in the Afghan mountains beyond the usual diplomatic and intelligence games.

China is another story.  The Chinese have long been pouring serious money into the intercontinental "Belt and Road Initiative" to provide a high-speed land route to Europe from China's manufacturing centers.  This exercise in "diplomacy by road" doesn't depend on going through Afghanistan, the Chinese not being imbeciles, but that doesn't mean that adding a spur into Afghanistan wouldn't be useful.

For such a long stretch of transportation infrastructure to be profitable, to bring up a non-Communist but very Chinese concept, end-to-end traffic is not enough; there needs to be a significant volume of cargo and passengers going partway, both as origins and destinations.  At the same time, China has been gaining control of essential resources worldwide, most notably in Africa, but even in such unlikely places as Greenland.

Afghanistan is far closer to China, much less populous than Africa, and apparently has considerably more mineral potential than you might expect:

Aerial surveys determined that Afghanistan may hold 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lodes of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. For instance, the Khanneshin carbonatite deposit in Afghanistan's Helmand province is valued at $89 billion, full as it is with rare earth elements.

Yes indeed, it's exactly those rare earths that are essential for modern electronics and high-tech batteries, on which China has already established an effective monopoly.  It's hard to notice buried amid all the other disasters brought on us by Biden maladministration and misgovernance, but supply problems have led to a global chip shortage impacting manufacturing of everything that uses them, from cars to appliances.

With China's well-known plans to dominate global 5G communications technology and having already been targeted by US sanctions, it's simple common sense for China to try to get control of essential resources so close and so rich.  But there's an even larger opportunity for China's utterly amoral and evil rulers to solve a potentially much more grave problem.

Killing Two Birds, and More People

For both Russian and the United States, occupying and ruling Afghanistan proved to be more costly than it was worth.  Communist Russia in the 1980s was on its last economic legs and its subject peoples were growing tired of Soviet control and repression; the combination of expensive military supplies and large numbers of body bags forced Gorbachev to throw in the towel.

With America, we don't seem to worry about cost - the Biden budget is wasting far more than the cost of the entire Afghan war on leftist garbage - and, until the withdrawal, there'd been no dead American soldiers in Afghanistan in over a year.  The American people had simply tired of having a presence in a country that seemed to offer us nothing but problems - they basically got bored.  As gruesomely incompetent as it was, Mr. Biden's cut-and-run wasn't contrary to voter desires as to the what, merely the how.

China does not appear to have this problem, at least its leaders don't think so.  Taiwan has been functionally independent for a lifetime and yet the rhetoric of reconquest has only increased.

The Chinese Communist Party is also thoroughly engaged in a multi-decade attempt to exterminate Islam and Uighur culture by the straightforward, albeit brutal, expedient of removing Uighur children from their homes and educating them in state schools to be good little atheist Communists.  Given their use of imprisoned Uighurs as slave laborers to help them cut the cost of solar panels and supply replacement organs to support high-value medical tourism, they may even show a profit.  When pressed on this point, the Chinese communists note that America, Canada, Australia, and England did the same to their violent ethnic minorities, so who are we to complain?

Afghanistan, of course, is notoriously Islamic, with the Taliban ranking among the most extreme and creatively brutal.  It remains to be seen whether they can out-brutal the Chinese.  In a generous gesture which seems calculated to level the playing field, out commander-in-thief gifted the Taliban with billions of dollars worth of sophisticated American weaponry, but Chinese numbers and ruthlessness may win the day anyway.

We may find out sooner than we think.  It happens that China has a surplus of 70 million young men who have no hope of finding wives.  There are far fewer Chinese women born than men, and Chinese farm girls would rather be farm wives in Korea than in China.  Due to China's infamous one-child policy and a strong cultural preference for sons, parts of rural China see 140 male births for every 100 female.

Hordes of unmarried men become a recipe for severe societal dislocation - there's a reason we have the phrase "marrying and settling down."  These men have nobody to get married to, so they're unlikely to settle down.

The Afghan opportunity opening up before them grants China's leaders a way to nobly dispose of these excess "broken branches" as heroes for the Motherland bringing home the rare-earth bacon.  Like the Soviets before them, the Chinese have absolutely no compunctions about using whatever brutality seems suitable; like America, the Chinese have ample economic resources to subdue a small, poor, friendless country of disorganized though violent barbarians no matter how well-armed.

Unlike either, the Chinese have no reason, political or practical, to care about casualties.  Indeed, it's positively to their advantage to thin down their herd while offering the survivors access to women in addition to combat ribbons.

Bluntly put - which is exactly how China's leadership thinks about such things - China could easily afford to lose two single-male soldiers each to exterminate every one of the 32 million Afghans, thus solving the Chinese gender imbalance.  If it took only one Chinese to kill one of the 16 million Afghan males, the 16 million surviving Afghan women would solve the other half of the problem while providing a more cooperative work force for the mines.  What beautiful efficiency!

You may be dropping your jaw in horror, but rest assured, the Chinese leadership aren't; they are instead salivating at the opportunity.

The Best-Laid Plans

What's to stop this from happening?  Well, certainly nothing we control anymore, and not much otherwise, save for one thing: reality.

Is it likely that the rest of the world, whether it be the Islamic states of Iran and Pakistan or the dying superpower of Russia, will simply sit there while China rolls in?  Pakistan notoriously supplied the Taliban to fight the Americans as the Americans supplied the mujahideen to fight the Russians; why wouldn't everyone chip in to help take a stripe off the hides of the Chinese when the opportunity presents itself?

Is it all that unthinkable that the billions of dollars of American equipment fecklessly abandoned in Afghanistan by Joe Biden might eventually find a use fighting against China after all?  Or would these weapons merely help the Taliban solve the Chinese gender imbalance problem more rapidly?  Do we particularly care?

Afghanistan presents what appears to be a golden opportunity for Chinese expansionism; it may also prove to be too much to swallow, as it's been for every previous empire that's tried.  Small hope, but better than nothing!

On the bright side, anything that increases the availability of rare earths required by all those electric cars which will be needed to Save the Planet should bring joy to the hearts of environmentalists everywhere; we already know that the fate of Afghan females disturbs our progressives not one whit.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

Although generally in agreement, please note two details.
1) The Soviets cared not at all about casualties, civilian or otherwise. The fact that the Muj did not wear uniforms, and were therefore indistinguishable from non-combatants, led Moscow to embark on a simple campaign of extermination, including exploding toys designed to maim children, but not kill them, in the hope that a maimed child would be more of an economic drag than a dead one.
2) It has only been the last three empires that failed to subject Afghanistan - to whit the British, the Soviet, and the American. Before that there were many empires over the ages that successfully overran Afghanistan. Which is not to say that Beijing will succeed. I think not, actually. But it is an historical fact that Afghanistan is not unconquerable.

August 25, 2021 5:13 PM

The Soviets didn't care about *Afghan* casualties. They did care, at least somewhat, about their own. I think the point is that the Chinese wouldn't care about either.

As far as conquest, that depends on definition - would it be accurate to say that America did conquer Afghanistan for the last 20 years, but not permanently? Various empires have come and gone for shorter or longer periods of time - the Brits and the Soviets included - but I don't think any have really stuck, have they? The *religion* of Islam certainly did, but not any specific Islamic ruler or empire.

August 25, 2021 5:17 PM

Your clarification regarding the nationality of the casualties is well made. According to the author, Beijing might be just as complacent regarding Chinese casualties as Afghan ones. That might very well make a difference.

Regarding conquest, since some of the prior empires ruled for more than a century (the Mauryan Empire, the Kushan Empire, and others), I think that counts as more than temporary occupation. Empires rise and fall, but while it's one thing to hold the cities, it's quite another to rule for a century or two. That said, the Afghanistan of yore is nothing like that of today. A deeply traumatized and violent people.

August 25, 2021 5:36 PM

For the moment, it looks like the Chinese and the taliban are all palsy-walsy...

During an interview on Thursday, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid expressed support for China's investment in Afghanistan.

"China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest [in] and rebuild our country," he said, according to the South China Morning Post.

The Taliban is looking to formally establish a government in the coming days. However, it remains to be seen which countries will recognize them as a legitimate governing body.

September 4, 2021 5:51 PM

Things about Pakistan get curioser and curioser.

We Need to Talk about Pakistan

Pakistani Premier Imran Khan claimed that the Afghans were "breaking the shackles of slavery"

Pakistan has frequently masterminded and conducted terror attacks on its neighboring country, India.

They once hosted the most dreaded terrorist in the world, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the architect of 9/11. Before he was captured in 2003, he was living comfortably in Pakistan. Pakistan also hosted Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. Palestinian terrorist Abu Zubaydah was also in Pakistan prior to his 2002 apprehension.

The final feather in Pakistan's cap of shame was hosting 9-11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden. He was living securely near a Pakistani army base.

Now for the situation in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has a unique relationship with Afghanistan. They share a 1,600-mile border. They have significant trade ties. They also have many cultural, ethnic, and religious links.

But it is also true that almost every problem that we see in Afghanistan today has the fingerprints of the Pakistani deep state.

During the '90s, Pakistan's deep state cultivated, shaped, and supported the Taliban. When the Taliban seized power by brutally executing Afghanistan's elected leader, Pakistan was one of the few countries to formally recognize the Taliban. This is the very Taliban that created a safe haven and training grounds for Al Qaida which conceived, planned, and conducted the 9-11 terror attacks.

After the 9-11 attacks, the chameleons in the Pakistani deep state positioned themselves as allies of the U.S. and even provided support for the airstrikes to the end of the Taliban rule.

At every juncture, the Pakistani officials are given substantial funds to fight the war on terror.

Since 2002, the U.S. gave over $14 billion to Pakistan as a form of reimbursement for their support in the war on terror. This is part of the $33 billion in total help that the U.S. has given Pakistan. President Trump was the only U.S. president to stop this practice upon learning of Pakistan's relentless treachery.

Pakistan is said to have supported the Taliban with arms, logistical support, and medical aid as they took over Afghanistan.

Despite Pakistan's relentless treachery, U.S. politicians, both Republican and Democrat, and other U.S. officials have been relatively restrained in their criticism of Pakistan.

The reason they usually cite for their hesitation to confront Pakistan is nuclear weapons, i.e., the fear that if the state collapses, the nukes will be in the hands of the terrorists. Considering the deep connections between the Pakistani deep state and terrorists, there is always the likelihood of that happening.


What is the rationale behind this insanity in dealing with Pakistan that has produced no results?

A plausible reason is Pakistan has a strong group of lobbyists in the U.S. who neutralize unfavorable views of Pakistan and push Pakistan's agenda to in the U.S.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that these lobbies are contributors to U.S. electoral campaigns, and if so, the financial support for Pakistan would be part of an implicit quid pro quo agreement.

This once again highlights the decay that is deeply rooted in the swamps of Washington.

Even the global media have been relatively silent about Pakistan. The BBC shut down an expert who attempted to expose Pakistan.

The situation is dire. More wars and drone strikes in Afghanistan may solve the problem temporarily. But to achieve a lasting solution, the U.S. will have to target the roots of the problem which is Pakistan.


Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. will assess Pakistan's role in the last 20 years with respect to Afghanistan.

So are things about to change?

I respectfully recommend that you don't hold your breath.

September 20, 2021 1:09 AM

You're basically right. The MSM are covering for the Miden administration having admitted thousands of unvetted Afghans...

JetBlue passenger chokes flight attendant, storms cockpit, but most media neglect to mention he shouted 'Allah!'

A frightening incident took place Wednesday on a JetBlue flight from Boston to San Juan in which a passenger assaulted a flight attendant, broke free of wrist ties once restrained, and attempted to storm the cockpit, with the door open because a crew member had used the toilet. Although the passenger shouted the name "Allah," nearly all the media reports that I have been able to find (here, here, and here, for instance) omit that point and merely state that he was angry about a failed phone call and imply that mental illness was the root cause of the attack.

The Daily Beast's jihad-sanitized account of the incident at least conveys the overpowering fury of the passenger:

The passenger, a man named Khalil El Dahr, had attempted to make a phone call near the end of the flight and "became angry about the call's unsuccess." Roughly 45 minutes before landing, he pulled himself out of his seat and rushed towards the cockpit, yelling in Spanish and Arabic that someone should shoot and kill him.

El Dahr grappled with the flight attendant who attempted to intercept him, punching and kicking him in the chest, and strangling him with the attendant's tie. It took "six or seven" crew members to restrain the passenger with plastic zip-tie handcuffs, but El Dahr somehow managed to break out of them. Another pair was used, in addition to at least four seat belt extenders (and, according to testimony, the flight attendant's tie)[.]

The Beast does link to an FBI affidavit that mentions the word the media are desperate to avoid: "The second Jet Blue FA stated that at one point during the incident, they [sic] were able to understand EL DAHR say Allah in a raised tone."

In the wake of Joe Biden's surrender to the Taliban jihadists, who have resumed lopping off hands and killing women weaing "immodest" attire, we wouldn't want Americans to start thinking jihad is a threat to their own safety.

The only honest and complete account that I have been able to find comes from the Boston Herald:

At "one point during the incident, they were able to understand El Dahr said 'Allah' in a raised tone," the agent reports[.]

September 25, 2021 3:18 PM

A reader sent us this link:

Everything You Need To Know About The Global Chip Shortage

It goes into detail about the causes, and more important, estimates when it might be relieved.

Our friends who were waiting for prices to come down before upgrading their computers are out of luck.

November 30, 2021 10:19 PM
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