US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that Beijing’s interest in Afghanistan could be “a good thing”, after China gave a warm and very public welcome to a senior Taliban delegation.
Nine officials from the militant group, which is eager for political recognition to bolster the impact of its military victories across much of Afghanistan, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday in the coastal city of Tianjin.
The photos showed Wang welcoming Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban and head of its political commission, with open arms, and then sitting down to chat with the Taliban delegation.
China hosted representatives of the Taliban in 2019 and is believed to have unofficial ties to the group through its ally Pakistan.
Wang saying the withdrawal of US and NATO troops, to be officially completed at the end of August, “marks the failure of US policy toward Afghanistan.” He called the Taliban “a major military and political force in Afghanistan” and urged the group to advance peace talks.
Although the United States may once have fiercely resisted Chinese attempts to increase its influence within Afghanistan, now Washington’s priority appears to be to avoid a collapse into an all-out civil war.
Blinken, asked during a trip to India about the Taliban’s visit to China, said that a greater role for Beijing in Afghan affairs could be “a good thing.” “Afghanistan’s neighboring countries have an interest in the region … but no one has an interest in the region falling into a lasting civil war or into the hands of the Taliban,” he told Indian television CNN-News18. “If China and other countries are working in that interest, then it is a positive thing.”
The Taliban launched a military offensive in early May and have since taken control of more than half of Afghanistan’s rural areas, surrounded and threatened many large cities, and seized lucrative border crossings, including Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
Although peace talks have been ongoing in Doha for months, they have stalled since the Taliban began their campaign. Afghan government negotiators say that after months of military advances, the group has become openly dismissive, describing the negotiations as “surrender talks.”
The scale and speed of the Taliban’s advance appears to have taken many by surprise, from regional powers to US authorities, who have said in private briefings that Kabul could fall within six months.
While most of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Beijing, are happy to see American bases and military infrastructure dismantled on their doorstep, they fear what may happen next.
In the 1990s, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces, Afghanistan entered a civil war, allowing al Qaeda to find a foothold and sending millions of refugees to flee to neighboring countries.
Beijing is particularly concerned that Afghanistan will become a base for Uighur militants from the western province of Xinjiang, where authorities maintain vast networks of internment camps for predominantly Muslim minorities.
Afghanistan and China share a border, though it is only 47 miles long and sits in the Himalayas at over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), at deep slow for most of the year, so it wouldn’t be an easy transit route. .
Wang said that the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)… poses a direct threat to China’s national security and territorial integrity. Fighting the ETIM is a common responsibility of the international community ”.
A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, confirmed that Baradar had promised that “the territory of Afghanistan will not be used against the security of any country, including China.”
China also has business incentives to establish ties with the Taliban. Afghanistan’s rich mineral reserves have attracted investment from Beijing for decades, and it is on major trade routes if security could be improved.
Chinese interests in neighboring Pakistan have been a repeat target for militants, but the Taliban have vowed to woo China rather than attack it. The Chinese said in a statement that the Taliban hope that “China will participate more in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and play a more important role in future reconstruction and economic development.”
But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged international leaders to challenge the Taliban’s presentation of themselves as a government on hold. “These are not the Taliban of the 20th century … but the manifestation of the nexus between transnational terrorist networks and transnational criminal organizations,” he said.
The Afghan government has shifted military strategy, focusing its resources on protecting strategic cities and areas like border crossings, and hopes to fight to a standstill that will force the Taliban back to the negotiating table.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism