Security-Insecurity Paradox for China and Pakistan

by Moneeb Mir

Last week, Pakistani investigators uncovered evidence connecting the recent fatal bombing on the Karakoram Highway that killed five Chinese workers in the northwest Pakistan to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s ‘Button Kharab’ cell. The police further believes that the incident involved suicide bombers who received training in eastern Afghanistan from a faction of the Pakistani Taliban. Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover has been an area of concern for both Pakistan and China, however, it is fast becoming a security-insecurity paradox. As Afghanistan, in the context of China and Pakistan encapsulates a complex dilemma where measures taken by a state to enhance its security inadvertently end up undermining it, either by creating new threats or exacerbating existing ones. This paradox is profoundly evident in the dynamics between China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, particularly in light of the rising threats from international terrorist groups.

 The Paradox in China-Pakistan Relations with Afghanistan

For China, the primary security concern revolves around preventing Afghanistan from becoming a sanctuary for terrorist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which poses a direct threat to its Xinjiang region. To this end, China has engaged diplomatically with the Taliban, aiming to encourage a stable and cooperative regime in Kabul that can control its territory and prevent it from being used as a base for terrorism. However, the paradox arises when the actions taken to secure this objective—such as supporting a government in Kabul that may have ties with various militant groups—potentially sow the seeds of future insecurity by legitimizing or empowering entities with a history of extremism.

It is to note that the financially constrained Taliban government, facing sanctions, has collaborated with China and Pakistan to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan, attracting significant funds for infrastructure development. China’s economic engagement encompasses investments in exploitation oil and gas as well as of minerals such as lithium worth over $1 trillion. Taliban can

Pakistan’s approach to securing its borders and internal stability involves exerting pressure on the Afghan Taliban to clamp down on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups that use Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks within Pakistan. Measures like deportations and trade restrictions are intended to coerce the Taliban into action. However, these measures can backfire by destabilizing the Afghan government, thereby creating a power vacuum that could be exploited by even more extreme groups, like the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K), or by deteriorating the relationship with Kabul, which could reduce cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts.

 The Complication of International Terrorist Threats

The international terrorist threat, exemplified by groups like IS-K, adds a layer of complexity to the security-insecurity paradox. IS-K has demonstrated not only a desire but also the capability to launch attacks beyond Afghanistan’s borders, targeting interests in various countries, including those in the region.

Furthermore, a threat of global attack emanating from Afghanistan is increasing. Western authorities attributed the recent deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall, resulting in around at least 137 casualties, to Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K), the Afghanistan-based branch of the extremist group ISIS and a rival of the Taliban. Despite the Taliban’s efforts to combat IS-K, analysts note that the jihadist organization has gained strength post-US withdrawal and has escalated its global activities.

This global ambition complicates the security calculus for both China and Pakistan in several ways: The presence and actions of IS-K and similar groups increase the overall threat level in the region, requiring China and Pakistan to enhance their security measures. These heightened measures, in turn, can lead to increased militarization, which can create friction between the local communities and militaries especially giving impetus to grievances of tribal societies towards the states. As there are such reports that China may formally ask Pakistan  to deploy its own Private Security Companies to protect its workers and interests.

International terrorist attacks originating from Afghanistan can destabilize the entire South Asian region, affecting global economic interests, including those of China and Pakistan. Moreover, the inability to control such threats can tarnish the international image of both countries, questioning their effectiveness in ensuring regional security and governance.

Addressing the security-insecurity paradox in the face of international terrorist threats requires a multifaceted strategy that transcends traditional security measures. For China and Pakistan, it involves not only enhancing military and intelligence cooperation but also investing in long-term socio-economic development in Afghanistan to address the root causes of extremism. Engaging in diplomatic efforts to foster a stable and inclusive government in Kabul, which can assert effective control over its territory and deny safe havens to terrorist groups, is crucial.

Regional and international cooperation, including with Western powers and neighboring countries, is essential to coordinate efforts against groups like IS-K, which pose a shared threat. Such cooperation can help mitigate the risk of Afghanistan becoming a launchpad for international terrorism, thereby addressing one of the critical aspects of the security-insecurity paradox facing China and Pakistan.


The author is an Associate Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir