09/07/2021, 16.15
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Doubts shroud Beijing's real commitment to Taliban's Afghanistan

by Emanuele Scimia

Beijing asks Islamic fundamentalists for stability, protection for Chinese interests and fight against terrorist groups. Wang Yi: the US witdrawal is against China and Russia. Former Afghan deputy minister: Chinese want to invest in our mines; security problems have so far prevented them from operating in Afghanistan.



Rome (AsiaNews) - With the military withdrawal of the United States, and the uncertain future commitment of Washington and its allies in Afghanistan, the Taliban seem to be betting on China to rebuild the country. On paper, the radical Islamist movement controls almost the entire Afghan territory and has launched its own government, ready to collaborate with the Chinese in the Belt and Road Initiative: Xi Jinping's mega-project to make China the pivot of world trade.

However, many observers question whether Beijing is willing to support the Afghan Islamic Emirate in any major way. The Chinese government does not want to be swallowed up by thier neighboring nation, as happened to both the Soviets and the United States. The Asian giant is essentially asking for three commitments from the Taliban: internal stability, protection for Chinese businesses and citizens, and the battle against extremist groups that could use the Afghan sanctuary to launch attacks against Xinjiang province.

In a telephone conversation on September 3 with his Iranian counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing wanted to cooperate with Iran in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Wang went on to criticize the U.S., saying that the retreat from the Afghan quagmire is part of Washington's growing commitment against China and Russia. Over the past month, the Chinese have repeatedly stated that the U.S. should contribute to Afghanistan's economic recovery and the fight against terrorist organizations within its borders. 

The survival of the Afghan state is dependent entirely on foreign aid. According to Muhammad Qahir Haidari, Afghan acting Deputy Minister of Finance between 2015 and 2017, during Ashraf Ghani's first government, Afghanistan now faces two scenarios. "If the new Taliban government is recognized by the international community, it can survive, as long as it relies on experts to rebuild the country and serve the people," Haidari tells AsiaNews.

If the Taliban regime is accepted instead only by some states, says Haidari, the new rulers will have difficult times ahead, and with them the Afghan people, who would suffer the most. "There would be no development projects and activities; most citizens would be out of work and try to flee the country or join the armed resistance," Haidari explains.

Russia and Iran do not have the economic means - and perhaps the political will - to help rebuild Afghanistan. In the same situation is Pakistan, which has played an active role in the creation and establishment of the Afghan Taliban movement. "China is in a better position and will have opportunities in Afghanistan, provided it can establish an acceptable relationship with the Taliban," Haidari declares. The former Afghan deputy minister is not convinced, however, that Beijing wants to provide significant grant assistance: "The Chinese are more interested in investing, especially in the mining sector."

Over the past 20 years, since Washington and Afghan Northern Alliance forces overthrew the first Taliban government, China has invested 2.8 billion euros in Afghanistan, concentrated in two projects: one mining and the other oil. Analysts point out that the Chinese are likely to face the same corruption problems in the country that Western investors have encountered.

Then there are even more daunting obstacles for Beijing. "During my work at the Ministry of Finance," Haidari says, "our government and China did enjoy very good relations, cooperating in several national and regional initiatives. Security issues, however, have prevented Chinese companies from operating in the mining sector." Not surprisingly, as learned by AsiaNews, several Chinese companies already present in Afghanistan are now ready to divest.

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