China,Taliban unhappy with each other

3 Min
China,Taliban unhappy with each other

China’s economic investment is far below the Taliban’s demands, while on the Chinese side, Beijing is frustrated by the continued presence of Uighur militants in Afghanistan, according to experts.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior aide to South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, said some observers had expected China to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. departure and deepen its presence in the country, but that had not materialized.

“China’s approach after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is much like what it did before the Taliban took over: a cautious engagement,” Kugelman told VOA. “For Beijing, the concern is security, especially the risk of terrorism.”

Kugelman believes that if the Taliban show that they are taking clear measures to contain terrorist groups that threaten China, especially smaller groups of Islamic State and Uighur militants, that will bring about a lot of change.

“But so far, the Taliban haven’t done that, which means that China’s presence in Afghanistan will remain relatively limited,” Kugelman said.

According to a U.N. Security Council report released last month, Turkestan’s Islamic Party (TIP), founded by exiled Uighur Islamist militants, has rebuilt its main base in The Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan.

“The group has reportedly rebuilt several strongholds in Badakhshan, expanded its scope of operations and secretly purchased weapons with the aim of improving its ability to carry out terrorist activities,” the U.N. Security Council report said.

According to another UN report last June, TIP has hundreds of members in Afghanistan. Although the United States removed the group from its list of terrorist organizations in November 2020, the United Nations still designates tip as a terrorist organization.

According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, director of the Nonstatical Armed Actors Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, China and the Taliban have been unhappy and disappointed with each other since the Taliban took over.

“Although the Taliban understand that China will not replace the United States as a source of investment and foreign aid, they want to get a lot more than they end up getting,” Brown told VOA. “China’s economic investment is far less than the Taliban want and hope.”

On the Chinese side, according to Brown, Beijing is frustrated by the continued presence of Uighur militants in Afghanistan and has repeatedly approached Kabul to try to get the Taliban to suppress and hand over Uighur militants to China.

“Since taking over Afghanistan, those [Uighur militants from Syria] have also poured into Afghanistan,” Brown said. “We’re not talking about thousands of people; we’re talking about hundreds.”

According to Brown, the Taliban’s policy toward Uighur fighters is the same as its policy toward almost all foreign fighters.

“They deny that the Uighurs are there, they deny any new inflows,” Brown said. “But they continue to tell Chinese the same thing they told us, that they would not allow an attack on China from Afghanistan.”

Last week, at a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a meeting with acting Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutachi, demanded that the Taliban suppress Uighur militants in Afghanistan in order to gain international legitimacy.

“China hopes that Afghanistan will build a broad-based and inclusive government, practice moderate and prudent governance, maintain domestic stability, achieve national harmony, and take resolute measures to combat all terrorist forces, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement,” Wang Yi said.

China borders Afghanistan through a narrow mountainous area called the Wakhan Corridor, which connects to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Beijing has been widely accused of violating the human rights of Uighur Muslims and other Turkic Muslim populations. But Beijing has denied any wrongdoing and said its policies in Xinjiang are about counterterrorism, extremism and separatism.

According to Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, head of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Governance and Markets, Beijing’s strategy in Afghanistan has been to engage with the Taliban and provide incentives for the group to promote stability since the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year.

“It [China] hopes that by normalizing relations with the Taliban (although it hasn’t been formally recognized), it will be able to generate cooperation and some kind of stability,” Murta Zashvili told VOA.

Murta Zashvili said that in addition to stability, China is also interested in Afghanistan’s natural resources. “But the ability to exploit these resources still has a long way to go — because this kind of large-scale investment is still very dangerous for Beijing.”

Last week, Wang told Mr. Mutachi that China would remove tariffs on 98 percent of its imports from Afghanistan, would resume issuing visas to Afghan citizens to enter China from Aug. 1, and that China supported the extension of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan.

According to Murta Tashvili, China is using these incentives to ensure that Afghanistan remains friendly with China, and the Taliban understand that China’s most powerful tool is the economy.

“To this end, China has committed to investing, even extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan,” Multa Tashvili said. “It’s not realistic, but it’s cheap talk for China.”

As part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, CPEC is a range of infrastructure projects aimed at strengthening Pakistan’s economic connectivity, including the construction of transport networks, ports, energy projects, and economic zones. ###

– —- VOA report