The Chinese embassy and joint work team in Pakistan expressed condolences to the victims of a bus blast [Image via Xinhua].

The Afghanistan Conundrum: Pakistan’s Challenge, China’s Role

With the Afghanistan conundrum creating a volatile situation on the border, Pakistan grapples for a solution. Can China be the key to stabilizing the region?

In recent years, Pakistan has experienced a marked increase in terrorist attacks, primarily originating from Afghanistan. This resurgence of terrorism poses a complex, multifaceted challenge to Pakistan’s national security.

The situation is further exacerbated by the perceived unwillingness of the current Afghan regime to curtail the militant groups responsible for these attacks effectively. Confronting such a grave situation, Pakistan can collaborate more closely with its long-standing ally China through thoughtful diplomacy based on shared interests to navigate this Afghanistan Conundrum.  

In dealing with the Afghanistan conundrum, China and Pakistan can collaborate in two ways.

First, as a strategic partner, China can boost Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts by providing state-of-the-art technology and expertise. This includes advanced surveillance systems, such as enhanced facial recognition technology extensively deployed by China for security purposes. Additionally, China can provide modern tools and training in various domains, including DNA forensics and explosives detection technology, to improve investigations and evidence analysis structure. It is important to acknowledge that, as per the findings of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the country’s current forensic infrastructure is far from ideal.

Secondly, both nations can collaborate diplomatically to exert additional pressure on Kabul to rein in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups. This can be achieved by utilising the existing frameworks such as the Afghanistan-China-Pakistan trilateral dialogue. The fifth meeting of this dialogue was held in May 2023, which served as a crucial platform for China and Pakistan to express their shared concerns regarding the security threats posed by groups like the TTP and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) operating from Afghanistan. 

Also See: TTP Threat: A Stalemate for Pakistan and Afghanistan Ties?

Moreover, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) also presents an avenue for collaboration between the two countries. As a regional security and economic bloc, the SCO provides a platform for both China and Pakistan to coordinate their policies on Afghanistan, share intelligence and expertise on counterterrorism, and work together to promote stability and development in the region.

Besides these forums, the two countries can use bilateral channels to persuade Kabul to curb terrorism. For instance, China, by leveraging its political and economic clout, can incentivise Kabul’s regime to take decisive action against cross-border terrorism. Reports from prominent Chinese news outlets such as the South China Morning Post suggest that Chinese diplomats have already initiated efforts to put pressure on the Taliban regime in this regard.

Such cooperation aligns with China’s broader strategic interests in the region. For instance, the cooperation would foster peace and stability not only in Pakistan but in the entire region which is vitally important for connectivity of, an aspiration which China ardently pursues for the successful completion of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It should also be noted that it is not only Pakistan that has been harmed in the wake of the terrorist attacks originating from Afghanistan; Chinese nationals and interests have also been targeted. For instance, just a few weeks ago, five Chinese citizens were killed in a suicide attack perpetrated by the TTP in Dasu in the north-western part of the country.

This was not an isolated incident. Chinese nationals and projects especially those of CPEC in Pakistan have suffered repeated attacks from Baloch separatist groups such as the Baluchistan Liberation Army, operating from the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. 

Moreover, TTP actions in Pakistan can also embolden Afghanistan-based anti-China groups such as the ETIM to carry out attacks against Chinese interests. It is worth mentioning that just like in the case of TTP, there are segments within Afghanistan’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) that enjoy close relations with ETIM.

All this makes the collaboration between China and Pakistan to suppress terrorism originating from Afghanistan a win-win possibility.

Moreover, it is also aligned with the vision of the Chinese leadership. For instance, while delivering a speech at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Chinese President Xi Jinping aptly highlighted, “No country in the world can enjoy absolute security. A country cannot have security while others are in turmoil, as threats facing other countries may haunt it also. When neighbours are in trouble, instead of tightening their own fences, one should extend a helping hand to them.”

To infer, the escalating terrorist threat originating from Afghanistan presents a common challenge not only for China and Pakistan but for the entire region, thus necessitating a collaborative approach to curb this threat. To navigate this Afghan conundrum, Pakistan needs to adopt a two-pronged strategy. First, it must enhance and boost its own counterterrorism capacities to effectively address the immediate security threats within its borders. Second, it should simultaneously build up pressure on Afghanistan to rein in terror groups through thoughtful diplomacy, taking on board, and collaborating with friendly countries like China to pressurise the Afghan authorities.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.

Azhar Zeeshan

Azhar Zeeshan is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS) Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at

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