China urges Taliban to crack down on ETIM

Updated on Jul 28, 2021 10:25 PM IST

The Chinese foreign minister met Taliban’s political chief to discuss peace and reconciliation process and the way forward in Afghanistan.

Members of the Afghan Special Forces get ready before a combat mission against Taliban, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. (REUTERS)
Members of the Afghan Special Forces get ready before a combat mission against Taliban, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. (REUTERS)
BySutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda

China on Wednesday told a Taliban delegation that it hopes the insurgent group will play a critical role in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan in the backdrop of US forces leaving the country.

State councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi urged the Taliban to crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Islamic group it alleges is fuelling unrest and separatism in China’s Xinjiang province from Afghanistan.

Wang met Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s political chief, in Tianjin, a city some 100km from Beijing.

On his part, Baradar said the Taliban is willing to establish an inclusive political structure in Afghanistan, which protects human rights as well as the rights and interests of women and children.

FIRST VISIT OF TOP TALIBAN LEADER TO CHINA

Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office in Qatar and is the lead negotiator for talks with the US, is leading a nine-member Taliban delegation on a two-day visit to China.

This is the first time a senior Taliban leader has visited China since the group launched an offensive to capture territories across Afghanistan, coinciding with the rapid drawdown of US and Nato forces.

Calling the Afghan Taliban a “critical military and political force in the country”, Wang said the group is “expected to play an important role in the peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process of Afghanistan”.

The Chinese diplomat called on the Afghan Taliban to put their national interests “…first and foremost, hold high the banner of peace talks, establish the goal of peace, create a positive image and adopt an inclusive policy”.

China had hosted a low-profile meeting with a Taliban delegation in 2019, which met Deng Xijun, then the special envoy for Afghanistan.

Back channel links with the group stretch back to the early 1990s through Pakistan, Beijing’s “iron brother”.

The atheist Communist Party of China and the fundamentalist Taliban have little in common ideologically but shared mutual interests could form the basis of pragmatic if wary ties.

The impact and the aftermath of the withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-ravaged country, the peace process and security issues were discussed during the meeting.

EAST TURKESTAN ISLAMIC MOVEMENT THREAT

“The sudden withdrawal of forces by the United States and Nato from Afghanistan marks the failure of United States’ Afghanistan policy, and Afghan people now face an important opportunity to stabilise and develop their own country,” Wang was quoted as telling Baradar in an official readout issued by the Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday.

On the issue of ETIM, Wang said he hoped the Taliban would crack down on them as it was a “direct threat to China’s national security”, according to the readout.

“The ETIM, an international terrorist group listed by the UN Security Council, poses direct threats to China’s national security and territorial integrity, and it is the common responsibility of the international community to fight against it,” he said.

Wang called on the Taliban to draw a clear line from “…ETIM and other terrorist groups, and resolutely and effectively crack down on them, so as to remove obstacles and create favourable conditions for regional peace, stability and development”.

China says ETIM is active in the northwestern frontier province of Xinjiang, which has a border of about 70km with Afghanistan, and is triggering unrest in the remote region.

On his part, Baradar, as per the Chinese readout, said, “China has always been a trustworthy friend of the Afghan people”.

“The Afghan Taliban, with sincerity for achieving peace, is willing to work with all parties to establish an inclusive political structure in Afghanistan that is accepted by all Afghan people and protects human rights as well as the rights and interests of women and children,” Baradar said.

INVOLVEMENT OF CHINA IN AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS

Baradar added that the Taliban hoped that China would be more involved in Afghanistan’s peace and reconstruction process, and play a bigger role in the country’s future reconstruction and economic development.

He said the Afghan Taliban would make its own efforts in creating a favourable investment environment. “Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan, and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem tweeted.

Naeem added that the group was also meeting China’s special envoy for Afghanistan and that the trip took place after an invitation from the Chinese authorities. “(The) delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan’s issues but will help to solve the problems and ensure restoration of peace in the country.”

HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN XINJIANG

It was not immediately known if the Taliban delegation brought up the issue of human rights abuses against Muslim minorities especially the Uighurs in Xinjiang during the meeting.

It is however likely that as the two sides attempt to build a transactional relationship - security for China, international legitimacy for the Taliban, for one, - both will try to deftly negotiate the thorny issue of Beijing’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang. “We care about the oppression of Muslims, be it in Palestine, in Myanmar, or in China, and we care about the oppression of non-Muslims anywhere in the world,” a senior Taliban representative had recently told The Wall Street Journal. “But what we are not going to do is interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

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