The Comrades and the Mullahs: China, Afghanistan and the New Asian Geopolitics

A book on US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its implications!

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Written by two of India’s foremost experts on China, Af-Pak, and the US War on Terror, the book tells the story of the US failure in and withdrawal from Afghanistan, China’s growing ambitions in the region, and the implications for India.

About the Book:

The withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan has left a lasting impact on both Afghanistan’s future and on Asian geopolitics. It has also brought China into focus. This book traces the emergence of China as a key player in Afghanistan and the evolution of China’s Afghan policy, especially with respect to its relations with the Taliban. Beijing’s dominant role in Afghanistan’s future is a potentially game-changing development in Asian geopolitics, even if questions remain about the former’s appetite to step in to fill the void and the limits of its ambitions.

In The Comrades and the Mullahs, Ananth Krishnan and Stanly Johny examine what Beijing’s interests are and the drivers of its foreign policy, and, more specifically, how its new Silk Road project—the Belt and Road Initiative—is shaping China–Afghan relations. They look at how Afghanistan has emerged as a key point on the corridor heading west from Xinjiang, and discuss the Xinjiang factor, drawing on their travels to China’s western frontiers, as well as the internal dynamics that are pushing Beijing’s westward march.

The Comrades and the Mullahs
The Comrades and the Mullahs

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Another factor is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the terror groups that are leading to an increasingly securitized approach to China’s western regions and beyond, including possible Chinese plans to deploy special forces along with the China–Afghan border areas in the Wakhan corridor and Badakhshan region.

China’s Afghan engagement has also deepened its ‘all- weather’ alliance with Pakistan—with Beijing increasingly leaning on Islamabad, particularly in its outreach to the Taliban and other elements in Afghanistan that has long been supported by the Pakistani state—and is a perennial source of tension between Islamabad and Kabul. The authors show how this increasing closeness is alarming for India and might have far-reaching consequences, especially in Kashmir.

Co-author Ananth Krishnan says, “China, both as an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan and as a superpower-in-waiting, stands uniquely placed to shape Afghanistan’s future. Yet curiously, the China-Afghanistan relationship remains little understood. This book, the first to focus on this crucial relationship, helps separate the hype from fact and lifts the veil on how Beijing sees its western neighbour. The U.S. exit brought celebration in Beijing, seen as an example of Western decline. Yet it also brought deep concern on what Taliban rule may mean for the region’s security and stability. China does not want to repeat the mistakes of the West. Yet more than ever, Beijing is willing to insert itself as a power player abroad. This book tries to capture this fascinating and evolving dichotomy.”

Co-author Stanly Johny says, “The American withdrawal from Afghanistan, after 20 years of war, was one of the defining moments of Asian geopolitics in the 21st century. The pullback and the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul took place at a time when the global contest between the United States and China was already heating up. For Beijing, the withdrawal of the United States from one of its backyard countries is welcome news. But when it’s preparing to chart a new path of engagement with Afghanistan’s new rulers, the biggest challenge before the comrades in Beijing is Afghanistan’s history itself. This book tells the story of both Afghanistan’s complex history and the challenges it offers to China at a time when Asian geopolitics is undergoing a paradigm shift.”

Swati Chopra, Executive Editor, HarperCollins India, says, “India’s immediate neighborhood has always been volatile – the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, and the effective ending of the post-9/11 American ‘war on terror’, created the perfect conditions for yet another geopolitical upheaval. In The Comrades and the Mullahs, Ananth Krishnan and Stanly Johny not only provide historical context and dissect the power play, but they also consider the consequences of China’s increasing inroads into India’s neighborhood, and the effect this would have on subcontinental dynamics in the immediate and long-term future.”

The book is slated for release on 8th March 2022.

About the Authors:

Ananth Krishnan

Ananth Krishnan is the China correspondent for The Hindu and is currently based in Hong Kong. In 2019, he was a visiting fellow at Brookings India. He was previously the Beijing-based associate editor at the India Today Group. He has reported from China for close to a decade and his reporting has taken him to all but three of China’s thirty-three provinces and regions. He is the author of India’s China Challenge (2020).

Stanly Johny

Stanly Johny is the international affairs editor with The Hindu. With a Ph.D. in international studies from the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, he has been writing on international affairs and Indian foreign policy in The Hindu Group publications for nearly a decade. An IVLP fellow of the US State Department and an India–Australia Youth Dialogue alumnus, he has also contributed to think-tanks such as the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, and the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. He is the author of The ISIS Caliphate: From Syria to the Doorsteps of India (2018). 

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Storizen Magazine January 2022 Cover