Source: Council on Foreign Relations
Right after the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan and the sudden advances made by the Taliban, it became quite clear that the Taliban regime is going to rise to power. This has turned out to be a mixed blessing for China which is going to gain benefit from the ongoing instability in its neighbouring nation.
In 1993, four years after the Soviet Union had withdrawn its last troops from Afghanistan and one year after the Afghan communist regime had collapsed, violent struggles started taking place in Afghanistan. The Taliban was formed in 1996 and ruled over Afghanistan until the 2001 U.S led invasion. Since then, it has waged an insurgency against the US-backed government in Kabul. China had not recognized the Taliban as a legitimate government due to its association with Al- Qaeda and its questionable relationship with the Chinese Uyghur militants. They had even got all their embassy operations to a complete haul for a few years. But the Taliban now is much stronger than at any point in 2001 and the number of their force has also increased a lot. In 2020, the Taliban signed a peace agreement with the United States and entered into power-sharing negotiations with the Afghan government. Since then, negligible progress has been made and now after the withdrawal of the U.S forces, the Taliban has become more hostile in approach and has taken over the Afghan Government.
But now, when China is emerging as a global power, it wants to have cordial relations with the Talibani regime because of rising Uyghur Muslim militants in China’s Xiaoping region who are said to be funded by the Taliban and have garnered their support, which in turn poses a threat to China and also for the safety of Chinese individuals on the land of Afghanistan. Also, at the same time, China wants the Taliban not to condemn the hostile actions of the Chinese government against the Uighur militants. Also, they are elated because the US has withdrawn its forces from Afghan borders which also share its contours with China which means that now US forces would no longer be deployed near China.
Round of talks between the Taliban and China date back to 2015, when China hosted secret talks between the Taliban and Afghan government and several other meetings have also taken place since then. The last round of talks took place on 23 July between senior officials from China (foreign minister Wang Yi) and nine Taliban leaders including Mullah Abdul Ghani Biradar. The meeting was highly publicised and many political messages were conveyed through it.
The main highlight of the meeting was China agreeing to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate political force in Afghanistan. In the words of Wang, the Taliban is “a crucial military and political force in Afghanistan that is expected to play an important role in the peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction process of the country”. Where the developed nations of the world are distancing themselves from the organisation, China has come forward in support and may also pitch in to play a key role in the development of Afghanistan because of the various factors that will prove to be beneficial for China such as access to natural resources, protection of their nationals, launch of the belt road initiative (envisioned by Xi Jinping) may soften Taliban’s fundamentalism and it may venture into various sectors which are yet untouched by the Taliban.
Other than this, Wang also criticised the US decision of withdrawing from Afghanistan and its policy regarding Afghanistan wherein they interfered in their politics and took control. China highlighted their own policy of non-interference and urged the people of Afghanistan to build a government of their own without any interference from any other country..
The other aspect which the meeting focussed on was if the Taliban is willing to not associate itself with any militant organisation and come up with a peaceful regime. In addition to this, China asked for a promise that the Taliban won’t cause any harm to any Chinese official or citizen working or living in Afghanistan. If the Taliban adheres to this, only then the Chinese government will build up ties with the Taliban regime and accept it.
The relationship will depend on each side not interfering in the other’s internal affairs. For Beijing, that means the Taliban cannot export extremism into China’s troubled Xinjiang region, which shares a tiny border with Afghanistan or condemn the Chinese government’s abuses against Uyghur Muslims in that region. For the Taliban, it means China will not question the group’s human rights abuses unless Chinese citizens are involved
Though China has shown support to the Taliban, this move has come with certain conditions that they cannot enact any draconian measures and resort to violence as then the Chinese Government will no longer support the Taliban. They have urged them to make changes in their policy to modernize and pursue a moderate direction by building a positive image and imbibing an inclusive policy.
China, while showing its support for Afghanistan has been a hypocrite as just 12 days before the meeting that took place between the Taliban leaders and Chinese officials, the Chinese government had called up the president of Afghanistan to tell them that they support the government and will help the government in any way possible to stabilise conditions and bring about peace in the country and continue providing them COVID-19 related relief but all of this was mere words and false promises to which China ever lived up to. “China gained from this particular move as it needed both the Afghan Government and the Taliban for the security of its nationals.
Moreover, Beijing can offer what Kabul needs the most: political impartiality and economic investment,” Zhou Bo, who was a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army from 2003 to 2020, wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. Afghanistan in turn has what China most prizes: opportunities in infrastructure and industry building – areas in which China’s capabilities are arguably unmatched – and access to $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits.
After the meeting which took place, there were many statements given by Chinese officials- which showed their support for Afghanistan and the country’s people wherein, they said China respects the people’s right to decide their own future independently and play a constructive role in the development of the nation.
China will seek to revive business ventures inside Afghanistan, which the Taliban is likely to support because the investment will provide badly needed revenues. Moreover, the Taliban has invited China to invest and build the economy of Afghanistan.
This hostile takeover of Afghanistan by Talibani militants is similar in nature to that of the military coup led by Mao Tse Dong of China in the year 1949 which took over the then ruling government.
Apart from this there are several similarities between the CPC in China and the Taliban as both of these regimes do not provide for freedom of speech and expression, political competition, dissent, and conduct human rights violations. Also, the politics of both these countries is hidden under an iron veil of secrecy and the world is unaware of their actions thereby leaving the world to guess how they work.
The swift and brutal takeover of the nation has brought the country and its people on their heels. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader who went to China for talks in July had taken charge as the interim president of the state and was to look after the administration of Afghanistan in the meanwhile, though now the leadership changed. Right after the Taliban declared their rule in Afghanistan, China was the nation that came in support and agreed to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government of the state.
The bigger question is how many countries are going to follow in China’s footsteps and are going to legitimize this building of ties between China and the Taliban. If these ties between the nations are successful Taliban might just not gain legitimacy at the global level but also get the much-needed investment to rebuild its infrastructure and revive the economy of Afghanistan if there are signs for sustainable stability.
1. Yun Sun, A RELUCTANT EMBRACE: CHINA’S NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TALIBAN, warontherocks,https://warontherocks.com/2021/08/a-reluctant-embrace-chinas-new-relationship-with-the-taliban/
2. Lindsay Maizland, The Taliban in Afghanistan, Council of Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan
3. Zhou Bo In Afghanistan, China Is Ready to Step Into the Void, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/20/opinion/china-afghanistan-taliban.html
4. Ian Marlow and Enda Curran, China eyes Afghanistan’s $1 trillion of minerals with risky bet on Taliban, Economic Times
5. Embassy of people’s republic of China in the republic of Finland, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying's Regular Press Conference on August 16, 2021, http://www.chinaembassy-fi.org/eng/fyrth/t1899785.htm
6. Ian Johnson, How Will China Deal With the Taliban?. Council of Foreign Relations,https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/china-afghanistan-deal-with-taliban