China’s fears that the fighting in Afghanistan between Kabul’s forces and the Taliban have now been dangerously compounded by the Biden Administration’s plan to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, bringing an end to the US’s longest-running war. China is right to fear that decision for two broad reasons. First, by withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, Washington will put an end to the waste of 2,448 US lives and US$2 trillion ($2.7 trillion) that was lost in sustaining a fight that has occupied it for twenty years, a fight that it knew it could never win. Washington could now focus its time and assets on countering China without the distraction of an unwinnable war. Afghanistan has resisted all efforts to conquer it; Alexander the Great could not accomplish that task, nor could the British, the Soviets or the US. While Zahirudin Muhammad Babur Padshah Ghazi, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, captured Kabul in 1504 and carved out a kingdom before moving on India, he did so without having to contend with the constrains that human rights and international law places on states today.
Withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan will allow Washington to re-focus on China, politically, economically and militarily. Second, the US recognises, as does China, that by withdrawing, it will give the Taliban the opportunity to return to power in Kabul by overthrowing the current US-supported regime there. That situation has major implications for China. Beijing recognises that it has been the US’s efforts in Afghanistan that have drained, to a large extent, Washington’s coffers and, simultaneously, allowed China to focus on its own economic development secure in the knowledge that the US maintained a modicum of peace in Afghanistan. These are matters that demand further examination.