The Taliban considers China a “friend” in Afghanistan and hopes to talk to Beijing about investing in reconstruction work “as soon as possible,” group spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Wednesday.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – MARCH 19: Senior member of the negotiating team of Taliban Suhail Shaheen holds a press conference ahead of leaving the hotel after attending the meeting on Afghan peace with the participation of delegations from Russia, China, the US, Pakistan, and Afghan parties and Qatar as an honorary guest in Moscow, Russia on March 19, 2021. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
In an interview with This Week in Asia, Taliban spokesman Suhail said the Taliban now controls 85% of the country and will ensure the safety of Chinese investors and workers if they return.
“We welcome them. If they invest of course we guarantee their safety. Their safety is very important to us,” he said by phone.
Suhail also said the Taliban would not allow China’s Uighur separatist fighters – some of whom had previously sought asylum in Afghanistan – into the country. The Taliban will also prevent al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group from operating there.
The interview took place as the Taliban entered the northern provinces of Afghanistan after the US troops had almost completely withdrawn from the country. US intelligence agencies believe that the government in Kabul is now likely to collapse within six months of the US withdrawal, and that the Taliban will return to power 20 years after being ousted.
The United States was stationed in the country after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks carried out by al-Qaeda in New York and Washington. The US claimed that the Taliban had covered up the terrorist group.
Suhail said that after the US troops leave, it is essential to hold talks with China, the biggest investor in Afghanistan.
“We have been to China many times and we have a good relationship with them,” Mr. Suhail said. “China is a friendly country that we welcome for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan has the world’s largest untapped reserves of copper, coal, iron, gas, cobalt, mercury, gold, lithium and thorium, worth more than $1 trillion.
In 2011, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) won a $400 million bid to drill three oil fields over 25 years, with about 87 million barrels of oil.
Chinese companies have also won copper mining rights at Mes Aynak in Logar province, about 40 kilometers southeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Committed to the Doha . Agreement
China blames a separatist Uighur group it calls the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for regularly perpetrating terrorism in Xinjiang.
Meanwhile, some experts doubt whether a group with that name really exists. Last year, the US removed ETIM from its list of terrorist organizations, angering China.
“People from other countries want to use Afghanistan as a site [to launch attacks] against other countries, we have pledged that we will not allow them to fight back,” said Mr. Suhail. against any country, including China”.
“This is our commitment in the Doha deal. We are sticking to that agreement,” added Mr Suhail, referring to the peace agreement the group signed with the US in February 2020 in Doha, paving the way for the withdrawal.
Asked specifically if the pledge included ETIM, he said: “Yes, they won’t be allowed in.”
Suhail also said al-Qaeda belonged to a “past era” and would no longer be allowed to operate in the country.
He said the Taliban had “inherited al-Qaeda” from President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s former government when al-Qaeda swept into Afghanistan in the 1990s. The Taliban overthrew Mr. Rabbani’s government in 1996.
“We allow [al-Qaeda] to stay in Afghanistan because they have no place in any other country.”
But he claimed that there were no longer any al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan and asserted that under the Doha peace agreement, the Taliban had “committed that we will not allow” any individual, group or any organization that uses Afghanistan to carry out attacks against the United States, its allies, or any other country in the world.”
Andrew Small, a senior transatlantic fellow of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, said China’s relationship with the Taliban is “old”. The Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.
In a sense, he said, China is a “friend” by maintaining diplomatic relations with the Taliban.
However, he said that now China would be “very cautious about any new investment or commitment to Afghanistan”.
He said China’s biggest concern was whether the Taliban would shelter Uyghur separatists.
In the late 1990s, Beijing was concerned that the Taliban government was providing shelter to Uighur fighters who had fled Chinese persecution in Xinjiang and set up training camps. training in Afghanistan.
Beijing is also concerned about other security risks because Afghanistan shares a 90-kilometer border with Xinjiang.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the problems in Afghanistan were real challenges facing both China and Pakistan.
“China, together with Pakistan, stands ready to continue to assist all parties in Afghanistan to seek a political solution through dialogue leading to ethnic reconciliation and lasting peace,” Wang said.
Last weekend, US troops left Bagram Air Base, ending America’s longest war in the country. The Pentagon says the US withdrawal is 90% complete.
Afghan government forces, no longer supported by US-led NATO troops, have shown signs of collapse. Many soldiers have deserted and fled to neighboring countries such as Tajikistan.
Washington agreed to withdraw troops in a deal negotiated last year under former President Donald Trump.
In April, Mr. Biden ordered all US forces to withdraw by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.
The commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, warned last week that the country could be heading towards a civil war.
The U.S. intelligence community believes that the Afghan military is weak and the outlook for the Kabul government in the short term is very low.