The Taliban* has renewed its pledge to fight terrorism in Afghanistan as it continues to court promises of Chinese infrastructure investment in a new interview with Chinese media.
“We are ready to exchange views with China on how to forge ahead in terms of boosting our mutual relations, establishing peace in the region, and its assistance in the reconstruction of Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told the South China Morning Post on Monday.
“China, our great neighbouring country, can have a constructive and positive role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and also in the economic development and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan,” he added.
At a Tianjin meeting in July, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Taliban leader and co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar that the group must “deal resolutely” with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Xinjiang-based terrorist group the Taliban has given refuge to in the past. He added earlier this month that the Taliban “needs to completely cut off from all terrorist forces with a clear attitude and take measures to combat international terrorist organisations classified by the UN Security Council.”
Suhail reiterated the group’s pledge on Monday, saying that the Taliban had “given a clear message to all that no one can use the soil of Afghanistan against neighbouring and other countries.” The group has given similar pledges to the US and Pakistan, promising to end its support for al-Qaeda* and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
Iran and Tajikistan have focused more on the formation of an inclusive and stable government in Afghanistan that will represent all ethnic and religious minorities, although Beijing and Islamabad have said the same as well.
After four decades of war, the Central Asian nation largely lies in ruins, with its infrastructure wrecked and its economy based in large part on the exporting of opiates. Twenty years of that time was spent under US occupation and a counterinsurgency war that left up to half a million Afghans dead, according to estimates by the Costs of War Project at Brown University. That occupation ended early Tuesday morning as the last US military aircraft left Kabul’s main airport in the middle of the night, the product of a negotiated peace with the Taliban.
The Taliban unexpectedly wound up cooperating with US forces in securing the airport during the final phase of the withdrawal after they captured Kabul, the country’s capital and largest city, without a fight on August 15. After throngs of people attempting to leave the country crowded around the entrance to Hamid Karzai International Airport, Daesh-Khorasan*, an Islamic State group hostile to both the US and the Taliban, staged a series of deadly terrorist attacks last week that killed nearly 200 people, including 13 US service members.
However, after the US carried out retaliatory airstrikes against Daesh-K that killed a number of civilians as well, Taliban officials castigated their US counterparts for not informing them and allowing them to deal with the threat.
As the last US forces left, the Taliban took over control of the airport, which is presently inoperable. According to Middle East Eye, they have cut a deal with the Turkish and Qatari governments by which the two nations will operate the airport as a consortium and recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of the country. It was unclear what the Taliban had offered in return, but officials declined to comment on the talks.
On Tuesday, Mohammad Naim, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office, told Sputnik resuming airport operation “is one of our priorities” which they hope will happen “as soon as possible.”
The former US-backed Afghan government hoped that joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian military, political and economic bloc whose members surround Afghanistan on almost every side, would help stabilize the country, especially by increasing trade and employment. The Taliban has shown similar interest in infrastructure investment, as well as in winning international recognition – which they eschewed during their first government from 1996-2001 – but it’s unclear as of yet how they will respond to the SCO, which is set to meet in Dushanbe next month.
Yue Xiaoyong, China’s recently appointed special envoy to Afghanistan, told the Chinese news portal Guancha.cn on Saturday that “We have already been working with countries in the region – in the north [of Afghanistan], many Central Asian countries are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which has been very successful. We also have a lot of projects that boost connectivity.”
“From a long-term and constructive perspective, China is ready to be part of the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan. We are not only ready to open, develop and build our own country, we are also willing to develop a win-win situation with them,” he added.
*The Taliban, al-Qaeda and Daesh are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and many other countries.
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