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Asif Shuja

1: What is Taliban’s real attitude towards China?

Taliban considers China as a resourceful country which can help its government gain legitimacy as well as help Afghanistan in its post-war reconstruction. When Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, only three countries had recognised their government, and this did not include China. When the Taliban again took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, only a handful of countries were ready to keep their embassies open and this included China. This is reflective of China’s enhanced global stature during the last two decades, a fact that Taliban is appreciative of. As the Taliban looks for productive partnerships with other countries after forming its government in Afghanistan, they would place China in the category of the most prominent global powers such as Russia and the United States. This would imply that despite the compulsions of cooperation on account of their status as being neighbours, the Taliban and China cannot fully trust each other due to the difference in their power hierarchy. This is regardless of the degree of economic and investment inroads China might make in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban.

2: What is the main trouble and risk China may face in future because of the return of Taliban in Afghanistan?

The primary troubling factor for China after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and consequent return of Taliban has been the possibility of political instability in Afghanistan, and worse, an impending civil war. In other words, the nature of the government in Afghanistan does not matter as much for China as the existence of a stable government as Afghanistan’s stability plays a crucial role in the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It is true that Taliban’s Islamist ideology would make them sympathetic to the Muslims residing elsewhere, including the Uyghur Muslims living in the Xinjiang region of China. However, such moral support does not necessarily translate into active support for the Uyghurs in any activities against China's interests. After their control of Afghanistan, Taliban has been evidently endeavouring to strike a balance between international reconciliation and Islamic solidarity. The failure of that endeavour would be detrimental to China’s interest.

3: What does Taliban expect China to do to help Afghanistan get rid of drug dependence in its economy? Would Taliban be ready to cut their support to Uyghur terrorist in lieu of that help?

The Taliban are traditionally opposed to the opium trade and during their previous rule they had also acted on substantially curbing this activity. However, in the previous two decades the opium cultivation has greatly increased with the result that currently the revenue gained through the opium exports constitutes a major chunk of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As the Taliban need money to govern their state, they face a tough choice as the other major means of income for Afghanistan – international aids – has also been largely halted. The way out for the Taliban is to look towards resource rich and willing countries such as China for investment to diversify their economy, which is rich in untapped natural resources.

Notwithstanding China’s possible help to Afghanistan, in the long run, the issue of Uyghurs cannot be expected to completely die down in the Taliban-China relations due to the connecting thread of Islam. However, in the short run, Taliban could be expected to strike a compromise on this count. In fact, such signals could be detected in the Taliban’s assurances that they would not allow Afghanistan’s territory to be used against the interests of other countries.

4: What is your professional opinion to solve these problems that might be faced by China?

While the primary objective of the US to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan was to get rid of a costly and useless war, this decision also had two aligned motivating objectives directed against China. First was to spare the US military resources to redirect to the Asia-Pacific to check China’s rise. The second was to create a security void in Afghanistan – which is likely to be followed in the other parts of the Middle East including Iraq – to compel as well as tempt China to fill that gap. This is to reverse a process of the previous two decades in which China has comfortably reaped the economic benefits under the security provided by the US. In essence, the current security situation created by the US in Afghanistan is a trap that China must avoid. The prudent approach for China would be to make its aid and investment to Afghanistan contingent upon Taliban’s actions in terms of making their government inclusive, ensuring social freedom and curbing extremism on the Afghanistan's territory.

Editor Assistant Research Fellow: Xianglin Gu



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