A Taliban delegation visited China this week, holding talks on Wednesday to discuss the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the role the Taliban will play.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the nine Taliban representatives in the northern city of Tianjin, during which he said the Taliban is expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan,” according to Reuters.
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for a photo during their meeting in Tianjin, China, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Wang met with a delegation of high-level Taliban officials as ties between them warm ahead of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan. (Li Ran/Xinhua via AP)
One of the chief concerns China expressed was over the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which Wang cited as a “direct threat to China’s national security.”
Former State Department official and United Nations adviser on Afghanistan Barnett R. Rubin believes the meeting in China was not a show of support for the Taliban but for a peaceful end to the war.
“It is an effort to use China’s influence to persuade the Taliban not to seek a military victory but to negotiate seriously for an inclusive political settlement,” he told The New York Times.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that China’s interest in Afghanistan could be “positive” as it helps to build regional interest in stability.
“Neighboring countries of Afghanistan have an interest in the region … but no one has an interest in the region falling into an enduring civil war or the hands of the Taliban,” he told an Indian news station, according to The Guardian. “If China and other countries are working on that interest, then it’s a positive thing.”
American support for Chinese interests in Afghanistan may stem from the increasingly likely collapse of the Afghan government and potential for a full-blown civil war in the country.
The Taliban has seized “momentum” with its attacks as the U.S. military continues to withdraw troops from the country – a move that several military leaders and politicians on both sides have criticized.
Former President Trump set out a plan to withdraw troops by May, but President Biden delayed that timeline to Sept. 11 after he assumed office in 2021. The Pentagon said Thursday that the withdrawal is 95% finished and will be completed by Aug. 31.
However, Afghanistan has struggled in the absence of support from the U.S. military. The Defense Ministry withdrew forces from seven districts as of July 5 to focus defensive efforts around some of the more critical capital provinces.
Those efforts appear to have failed, with Taliban forces reportedly taking 19 districts “without a fight,” according to Ata Mohammad Noor, an Afghan warlord and key U.S. ally.
The Taliban claimed as of July 9 that it controls at least 85% of the country’s territory. They have also captured several border crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, opening up potential revenues for the terrorist group and cutting key transportation routes.