China Establishes Full Diplomatic Relations With The Taliban Government

Developing Just Leadership

Zia Sarhadi

Sha'ban 20, 1445 2024-03-01

News & Analysis

by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 1, Sha'ban, 1445)

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

China has become the first country in the world to establish full diplomatic relations with the Taliban-led government in Kabul. Others, notably Russia and the Central Asian republics, are likely to follow suit. This raises the question about Afghanistan’s neighbours to the east (Pakistan) and the west (Iran): Will they also now establish formal diplomatic ties with Kabul? The same applies to countries elsewhere in West Asia but it is almost certain they will accept the reality of Taliban rule and move toward full diplomatic recognition now that China has broken the ice.

Currently, there are 15 countries that have diplomatic missions in Afghanistan without formal ties. These include Russia, Japan, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and several central Asian republics as well as Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. The European Union also has a presence. The US is represented through Qatar’s mission in Kabul.

Several countries also have consulates in different Afghan cities. Herat, Qandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-i Sharif all have consulates of various countries, primarily Muslim neighbours of Afghanistan.

It is interesting to note that China’s formal recognition of the Taliban government coincided with other regional developments. While President Xi Jinping was receiving the credentials of Taliban’s ambassador to China, Asadullah Bilal Karimi in a formal ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 30, 2024, special envoys of Russia and China were in Kabul. They were in the Afghan capital to attend a meeting convened by the Taliban government. It was called the Regional Cooperation Initiative (RCI).

Diplomats from Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Indonesia attended the RCI meeting. Conspicuously absent was the US that has hitherto been threatening the Taliban with dire consequences if they do not mend their “errant” ways and fall in line with American demands.

Unlike the cowardly generals in Pakistan, the Taliban—and Afghans in general—have much more dignity and self-respect. They chased the arrogant Americans right out of town in August 2021 after a 20-year struggle and refuse to bow to their threats.

What was the purpose of the RCI meeting? Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi spelled out the details in his address to the foreign diplomats assembled in Kabul. He emphasised that these countries “should hold regional dialogues to increase and continue the positive interaction with Afghanistan.”

This will likely bear fruit. Afghanistan offers vast opportunities in mining, dams and road building and railway lines. The Chinese have already built a five-metre wide all-weather road through the narrow Wakhan Corridor connecting China with Central Asia and from there with Europe.

There is another equally exciting connectivity project built by Iran: the railway line connecting Iran’s Khaf city with the western Afghan city of Herat. This 225 km track links Afghanistan with Iran’s vast network from Mashhad in the north east to Zahedan in the south west and then all the way to Chabahar port on the Persian Gulf.

The Herat-Khaf railway also provides Afghanistan an opportunity to connect to Iran’s sea ports in the Caspian Sea. Iran’s vast rail and road networks connect landlocked Afghanistan with the Turkish railway network and from there with the European transcontinental railway network.

No doubt, Afghan Foreign Minister Muttaqi had his country’s vast mineral deposits and the rapidly developing road and rail networks in mind when he asked participants at the RCI conference to take advantage of emerging opportunities in Afghanistan. He framed this in the context of the development of the region. Hinting at the revival of US-backed terrorist outfit Daesh (that calls itself Islamic State of Khorasan—ISK in Afghanistan), he urged diplomats to “coordinate the management of potential threats”.

Muttaqi had a captive audience. The emergence of terrorist groups had already been discussed at the Moscow Format meeting in Kazan on September 29-30, 2023. Almost the same group of countries (minus Indonesia) was present.

The Moscow Format declaration warned against US re-entry into Afghanistan, facilitated by the dim-witted Pakistani generals. The participants in Kazan had “advocated for Afghanistan as an independent, united and peaceful state.”

The statement went on to assert: “They [participants at the Moscow Format] underscored the unacceptability of deployment of military infrastructure facilities of third countries in Afghanistan and its neighboring states under any pretext.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also warned about the “increasing involvement of extra-regional actors in Afghanistan,” in a clear reference to American designs in Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, China’s diplomatic recognition of the Taliban government, followed perhaps soon by Moscow and Chinese investments in Afghanistan have set off alarm bells ringing in Washington. To regain lost ground as a result of its belligerent approach to the Taliban, the US State Department released a document titled ‘Integrated Country Strategy for Afghanistan’. While dated November 14, 2023, it was released the same day that President Xi received the letter of credentials from the Taliban ambassador in Beijing on January 30, 2024.

The panic in Washington was obvious from the contents of the strategy outlined by the US for Afghanistan. There were no more threats of regime change. Instead, the US retreat was couched in language that appealed to the Afghan diaspora that Washington and its allies had supported in the past. “With diaspora Afghans, we discourage support for a new armed conflict through resistance group proxies in Afghanistan — more violence or regime change is not the solution to the Taliban”.

So far, so good. While illegally withholding $7.5 billion of Afghan Central Bank reserves, the Americans said: “We must simultaneously pump unprecedented amounts of humanitarian assistance into the country, convince the Taliban to adopt international economic norms and advocate tirelessly for education.” Why not just release the Afghan funds?

Sensing that they have been left out in the cold, the Americans said “Even as—and for as long as—the United States does not recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, we must build functional relationships that fulfil our (US) objectives.” And how do they plan to do that?

“With the Taliban we advocate for consular access…”

This is almost on par with their ignominious retreat from Kabul under the cover of darkness on the night of August 30, 2021. Does one need any more proof of American irrelevance in the world today?

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