BEIJING: A top-level Taliban delegation visiting China on Wednesday assured Beijing the group would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for plotting against another country.
The delegation is in China for talks with Beijing officials, as the insurgents continue a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan — including in areas along their shared border.
Their frontier is just 76 kilometres long — and at a rugged high altitude without a road crossing — but Beijing fears Afghanistan could be used as a staging ground for Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said those concerns were unfounded. “The Islamic Emirate assured China that Afghanistan’s soil would not be used against any country’s security.
“They (China) promised not to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs, but instead help to solve problems and bring peace.”
For its part, China told the Taliban delegation it expected the insurgent group to play an important role in ending Afghanistan’s war and rebuilding the country, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
Nine Taliban representatives met Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the two sides discussed the Afghan peace process and security issues, the Taliban spokesperson said.
Wang said the Taliban were expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan”, according to a readout of the meeting from the foreign ministry.
He also said that he hoped the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it was a “direct threat to China’s national security,” according to the readout, referring to a group China says is active in the Xinjiang region in China’s far west.
The meeting in the Chinese city of Tianjin, which Naeem said was at the invitation from Chinese authorities, was widely seen as a gift from Beijing to the insurgent group. The visit, therefore, is likely to further cement the group’s recognition on the international stage at a sensitive time even as violence increases in Afghanistan.
The militants have a political office in Qatar where peace talks are taking place and this month they sent representatives to Iran where they had meetings with an Afghan government delegation.
Naeem added that the delegation, led by Taliban negotiator and deputy leader Mullah Baradar, was also meeting China’s special envoy for Afghanistan.
Security in Afghanistan has been deteriorating fast as the United States withdraws its troops by September. The Taliban have launched a flurry of offensives, taking districts and border crossings around the country while peace talks in Qatar’s capital have not made substantive progress.
In Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani urged the international community “to review the narrative of the willingness of the Taliban and their supporters on embracing a political solution”.
“In terms of scale, scope and timing, we are facing an invasion that is unprecedented in the last 30 years,” he warned in a speech on Wednesday.
“These are not the Taliban of the 20th century… but the manifestation of the nexus between transnational terrorist networks and transnational criminal organisations.” Analysts say China, whose stated foreign policy position is non-interference in other countries’ issues, is queasy about the religiosity of the Taliban given their proximity to the Xinjiang province.
But the meeting gifts legitimacy to an insurgent group craving international recognition — and a potential diplomatic shield at the UN — to match their military march across the nation.
“Wang Yi pointed out, the Afghan Taliban is a crucial military and political force in Afghanistan,” Zhao Lijian, foreign ministry spokesman told reporters in Beijing.
“China has throughout adhered to non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs… Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people,” he said, in stark contrast to the “failure of US policy towards Afghanistan”.
“Afghan people have an important opportunity to stabilise and develop their own country.”
Communist Party leaders in Beijing and the Taliban have little ideological common ground, but experts feel shared pragmatism could see mutual self-interest trump sensitive differences.
For Beijing, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics.
The Taliban, meanwhile, would consider China a crucial source of investment and economic support.
“By getting the Chinese on their side, the Chinese would be able to provide them with diplomatic cover at the Security Council,” Australia-based Afghanistan expert Nishank Motwani said.
“It is important to note… when other countries open up their doors and engage with the Taliban it undercuts the legitimacy of the Afghan government and presents the Taliban almost as a government in waiting.”