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China and the Taliban consolidate rapprochement

Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.LI RAN / AP

Chinese Foreign Minister qualifies the group as a “key political and military force”. The Afghan militia has pledged not to allow operations by terrorist groups in the territory it controls.

The reenactment of the meeting said it all. In a huge hall and in front of a mural of classical Chinese painting between marbles and red curtains, where two days ago he had received US State Department number two, Wendy Sherman, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi left. be photographed smiling this Wednesday with a heavily bearded delegation of nine Afghan Taliban, chaired by one of the group’s founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The message was clear: China accepts this militia as a valid interlocutor and as part of the reconstruction process in Afghanistan after the beginning of the US withdrawal.

The meeting in the city of Tianjin, the second known between Chinese authorities and the Taliban since 2019, took place with all the pomp that the coronavirus pandemic allows and with visible satisfaction on both sides. The Afghan guerrilla, which once maintained excellent ties with Beijing during its period in power before the September 11 attacks, gets crucial support from China, whether it ends up being part of a coalition with the pro-US government — the option that Beijing says it prefers—or assume power alone. Xi Jinping’s executive, for his part, gets exactly what he wanted: the promise that, with the Taliban in power, Afghanistan will not lend its soil to extremist groups’ operations against the neighboring country.

“The Taliban in Afghanistan represents a key political and military force and will play an important role in the process of peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction,” Wang said in a statement issued by his ministry.

The Foreign Affairs official reiterated what Beijing expects from the Taliban: to contain the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uighur radical group that China accuses of being active in the Xinjiang region and of wanting to perpetrate terrorist acts to achieve independence in this territory, home to this ethnic minority of Muslim religion. ETIM, the statement emphasizes, represents a “direct threat to China’s national security.”

Beijing received these assurances. “The delegation told China that it will not allow anyone to use Afghan territory against China,” said Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem, quoted by Reuters. “China also reiterated its commitment to continue its assistance to Afghans and said it will not interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan but will help resolve the problems and restore peace in the country.”

President Xi Jinping’s government has followed with great interest the development of events since the United States began the process of withdrawing its troops from the neighboring country – on July 1st, they left the Bagram base, on the outskirts of Kabul. The Taliban have taken control of Kandahar and Badakhshan provinces — where the narrow Wakhan corridor is located, the Afghan border with Xinjiang — and already control nearly half of Afghanistan’s territory, while US troops continue to support government forces.

Beijing’s interest is twofold. A destabilized Afghanistan can serve as a refuge for Uighur radicals, as has happened in the past, and make it easier for terrorist groups to commit attacks in Xinjiang, precisely when China considers the success of its re-education campaign among the Muslim minority, which it has been carrying out since 2016, allowed that acts of extremist violence in that region were not detected in the last five years. The attack earlier this month on a bus that killed nine Chinese engineers working on the construction of a dam in Pakistan has heightened these concerns.

On the other hand, an Afghanistan at peace and free of US troops not only confirms his thesis that the United States is supposedly an increasingly decadent power. It also allows you to protect and expand your economic interests in this nation, hungry for investment and infrastructure. And it opens the door for you to integrate this country in your initiative of the New Silk Roads, the gigantic infrastructure network with which it intends to connect with the rest of the world. China, which is already building a highway there between Peshawar, on the Pakistani border, and Kandahar, could thus connect Kabul to the initiative’s most important project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and open a land access route to markets such as Iran, Turkistan, and Uzbekistan in Central Asia.

China has proposed a three-point peace plan for Afghanistan, and last week it appointed a new special envoy for the talks, diplomat Yue Xiaoyong, in a sign that it wants a bigger role in the process. The plan aims to prevent an escalation of the conflict in the Central Asian country, re-establish negotiations between the Afghan factions to achieve a political reconciliation, and prevent terrorist groups from taking advantage of the situation to establish themselves in its territory, as Al Qaeda did in the years ninety.

Wang himself traveled to Tajikistan two weeks ago to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a forum for regional cooperation on security matters, and to try to unify positions on Afghanistan with neighboring Central Asian countries.

While in Tianjin Beijing and the Taliban approached, in New Delhi parallel geopolitical movements were taking place. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting with his Indian counterpart, Subramanyan Jaishankar, to strengthen relations with a giant strategically located close to Afghanistan and China, at times when Beijing and New Delhi see their relations affected by tensions at the border.

Source: with Agencies

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