China’s exceeding interests in Kabul
On the face of it, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s surprise visit to Afghanistan on March 24, 2022 was mainly in connection with preparations for the third meeting of the FM’s conference of Afghanistan’s neighbors held in Beijing for two days during the end of March. But the visit went deeper, also aimed at looking for opportunities to improve economic and political cooperation between the two countries and within the region. At the same time, it served as an opportunity for the Chinese FM to assess first-hand the mood and functioning of the Taliban government and their expectations from neighboring countries.
Apart from China, most regional countries are facing serious economic and political problems and are not in a position to extend substantial support or financial assistance. Moreover, in all likelihood, the Chinese FM will have persuaded the Taliban leadership to be more flexible in their policies toward girls’ education and women in general. While conscious of the sensitivities of the Taliban, he may have advised that they should have a more broad-based Cabinet and improve their human rights record while ensuring that TTP, Daesh and Al-Qaeda are not allowed to operate in Afghanistan.
The visit was significant for a number of reasons. For one, after the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, China has seen an opportunity to fill the huge power vacuum. It is the one major power in the world that has no previous history of direct involvement in Afghanistan and enjoys the confidence of the Taliban leadership-- a point that was driven home loud and clear to the world by Wang Yi’s surprise visit. China is also in a position to offer loans, assist in reconstruction and provide support in terms of food and other vital items such as medicines.
Clearly, the people of Afghanistan who during the last 40 years have undergone great suffering and presently are going through multiple external and internal challenges, desperately need the support of the international community. The Ukraine conflict has taken away the attention of major powers from the plight of Afghans.
No less important is for China, Pakistan and other regional countries to take a common approach to deal with the terrorism threats developing from militant groups in Afghanistan.
China has urged the international community to give greater support to Afghanistan in terms of financial and humanitarian assistance and accept it as a shared responsibility. It also urged the US to take primary responsibility for Afghanistan’s reconstruction in real earnest. China is apparently of the view that the US, having been heavily involved in the conflicts in Afghanistan and pursuing policies that have brought immense suffering and misery to its people, has a greater responsibility in its rehabilitation. China also expects neighboring countries will fully support and render concrete assistance to the Afghan people and contribute toward its stability. In essence, Afghanistan’s neighbors should take a long-term view of Afghanistan’s stability and build a consensus among them in their own national interest as well as that of the region’s.
No less important is for China, Pakistan and other regional countries to take a common approach to deal with the terrorism threats developing from militant groups in Afghanistan. All these matters must have come under discussion during the foreign minister’s conference hosted by China in Anhui province.
The presence of Russia’s foreign minister in the meeting gave it added importance and is indicative of the significance that neighboring countries attach to Afghanistan’s stability. India certainly felt left out due to not being invited to the conference-- although Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’ made a short visit to India during his recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. India has been making overtures to the Taliban regime and when the Taliban government is finally recognized, in all probability the two countries will re-establish diplomatic relations.
Pakistan has been repeatedly advising Afghanistan to broaden its cabinet so that it represents a wider cross-section of the Afghan polity, reduces alienation among different groups and increases efficiency. Pakistan and China are also insisting the Taliban open schools and colleges to Afghan girls. It is a matter of great concern that Taliban have gone back on their commitment. This also reflects it is the hard core that is in control and determines the ideological orientation and government policies-- those prepared to make beleaguered, tired Afghans face additional hardships rather than compromise on their questionable beliefs.
- Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues. E-mail: [email protected]