As Taliban struggled to work out arrangements to form an inclusive government that would be acceptable to the international community, Taliban’s spokesperson, Mullah Zabihullah Mujahid, gave an interview to an Italian News paper, La Repubblica in which he articulated the broad framework of his government’s foreign policy.
According to Mr. Mujahid, Taliban would seek to promote international harmony, peace and international cooperation and would not become part of any military block. In addition, his government would seek to promote friendly ties with all its neighbours including India.
He singled out Kabul’s relations with China and Russia as the most important one. Praising Moscow for its continuing effort to stabilize the new dispensation in Afghanistan, he expressed the desire of his government to seek cooperative ties with Russia especially in the areas of trade and development. Of all the neighboring states, Mr. Zabiullah, spoke glowingly about its ties with Beijing. He mentioned Beijing as a source of economic help, future investment and underscored Afghanistan’s role as a land bridge for regional connectivity to promote Belt and Road initiative of China.
“China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country. He said the New Silk Road – an infrastructure initiative with which China wants to increase its global influence by opening up trade routes – was held in high regard by the Taliban.
He said Afghanistan has enormous resources of copper that would be tapped with Beijing’s help. He stated there are, “rich copper mines in the country, which, thanks to the Chinese, can be put back into operation and modernized”.
He further said that the Taliban government would be looking toward China for financial help, loans, and investment and to meet its developmental needs. According to him “China is our pass to markets all over the world.”
It is worth noting that both China and Russia abstained on the UN Security Council Resolution that called upon Kabul to uphold its commitment not to let its territory be used by Daesh and ISI-K for attacks against other states and to respect human rights. Moscow and Beijing abstained from this resolution as it failed to mention other groups like ETIM and IMU that are involved in terrorist activities against them.
Relations between Beijing and Taliban have qualitatively improved ever since the beginning of Doha peace process. During the Doha peace talks Beijing recognized the Taliban as a vital stakeholder and in July 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi invited a Taliban delegation led by Mullah Brother Akhund to China for talks. During the July meeting an understanding was reached that Uighur militants belonging to ETIM will not be allowed to operate from Afghanistan in exchange for Beijing’s help to the Taliban.
China’s foreign minister, Wang told the visiting nine-member delegation that Taliban is expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.” He expressed the hope the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it posed a “direct threat to China’s national security.’ According to Taliban sources “politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings.”
Are the Taliban making a mistake in counting on China for financial help and expertise?
In my opinion, this is the right move as under American pressure bulk of the Western countries are a pursuing a policy of “economic strangulation” of the Taliban regime as evidenced by the withholding of their multilateral assistance including refusal by IMF to release the financial tranche, leaving Kabul with empty foreign exchange coffers. Faced with this dire economic situation, the Taliban have done the correct thing to look towards China for economic bail out.
On its part China has already invested 3 billion dollars in Afghanistan’s copper mines and it has plans to build modern infrastructure inside Afghanistan including railways and roads.
Through their collaboration, both Beijing and the Taliban can start joint projects that will be to their advantage. China’s help would be especially come in handy as the Taliban are faced with a massive brain drain of their skilled labour. Kabul can look towards Islamabad to overcome its acute labour shortages they can easily dovetail with Chinese technology and expertise. To prevent total meltdown of the Afghan economy and to overcome the real prospect of socio-economic unrest, the Taliban badly need economic and financial resources that can only come from their neighbors like China and Pakistan.
Islamabad would very much like to offer its help to the Taliban regime, but it is constrained by its own struggling economy that might take a few years to regain its vitality. Pakistan can offer Afghanistan transit trade facilities in addition to opening a supply of fuel, wheat, edible oil and its work force.
With the Western countries turning its back on war-ravaged Afghan economy, it is imperative that Islamabad and Beijing should offer their help to their war-ravaged neighbor.
There writer is political scientist and defense analyst.