The apparent – and cautious – honeymoon between the Taliban and China continues and grows more intense. A day after the militia announced the composition of its government in Afghanistan, in which only members of the group will participate and in which there are no women, Beijing has given its blessing to what it has described as a “necessary step” to end “three weeks of anarchy” and begin the restoration of order and reconstruction. He has also confirmed that he is willing to maintain communication with the new leaders of the Central Asian country.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for his part, has advanced the shipment of emergency humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, to which China will send a shipment of grain, winter equipment, vaccines and medicines worth about 26 million euros. Both countries share a small border, of about 70 kilometers.
Contacts between Beijing and the Taliban, and with other neighboring countries with interests in Afghanistan, have developed at an intense level in recent weeks, since the Chinese Foreign Minister met in the city of Tianjin with a representation of the fundamentalist group at the end of July. Wang was speaking Wednesday during a videoconference meeting with diplomatic representatives from six neighboring nations: Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran. Last week it was his deputy minister Wu Jianghao who was speaking with the then deputy director of the Taliban political office in Qatar, Abdul Salam Hanafi, today deputy prime minister in Kabul. A regional security summit will be held in Dushanbe next week to address the Afghan situation and which could be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself.
The score between the new Afghan leaders and China is mutual: both hope to benefit from the relationship, but want proof that they can trust each other. Xi Jinping’s government has been willing to collaborate with the militia and assist in the reconstruction process after the withdrawal of the United States and its allies after 20 years of war; In the long term, and if the country manages to stabilize, it is interested in the mineral wealth that may exist in the Afghan subsoil, the extraction of which has been made impossible by a complicated geography and decades of constant conflict.
In exchange for its help, Beijing is demanding guarantees that the Taliban will not allow the use of its territory for possible terrorist attacks against its region of Xinjiang, bordering Afghanistan and home to the Uighur Muslim minority, where attacks were perpetrated in the past that Beijing attributed to radical groups of that ethnic group.
“China knows that it has to be more active, diplomatically and politically, and it is being. He also knows that he will have to manage the situation largely through Pakistan – the great ally of the Taliban. And he has these reservations about what the guarantees from the Taliban mean, and to what extent Pakistan can put pressure on them, ”says Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund.
The exchanges of messages in this sense follow one another. If on Friday Hanafi insisted to Wu that his group “will never allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the interests of China,” this Wednesday Wang Yi demanded that the militia break with the extremist groups and take measures against them. “All parties should intensify the exchange of intelligence data and cooperation in border control, to catch and eliminate terrorist groups that have infiltrated from Afghanistan,” said the Chinese minister.
Beijing, says Small, “does not want the infiltration of militants or a permissive environment for them, for any group that could cause problems for China or its neighbors. And that includes a wide spectrum of formations, including the Pakistani Taliban groups. ” In this expert’s opinion, the Xi government is also concerned, more than the common border —very narrow and in geographical conditions that make crossing very difficult—, the vulnerability of “Chinese targets in neighboring countries and, in some cases, the stability of neighboring states themselves, such as Pakistan. Nor does he want a pariah state operating under international sanctions, so he wants to make sure that an acceptable government emerges. ” And, in any case, “China does not want to be dragged into an active intervention, certainly not military, but not in other ways either. Too much political influence can make it too visible a target. “
For their part, the Taliban hope that Beijing will provide them desperately needed assistance to get the country up and running, and diplomatic support that will avoid the isolation that the group experienced during its first tenure at the helm of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. In an interview with the Italian newspaper The Republic Last week, group spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called Beijing “our most important partner” and “an extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country.”
“There are rich copper mines in the country that, thanks to the Chinese, will be able to return to activity and modernize. In addition, China is our entry ticket to markets around the world ”, the spokesperson assured.
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