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China's talks with the Taliban: Objectives of Engagement

By       Message James Duglous Crickton     Permalink
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Afghan scene- Quite true to life, sad to say
Afghan scene- Quite true to life, sad to say
(Image by Gwydion M. Williams)
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China is seeking accommodation with the Afghan Taliban!

For near-term and long-term goals.

A four-member Taliban delegation led by Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, head of the Taliban political office in Doha, went to Beijing in early July (2016) and held talks on the status of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) mechanism of which China is a member.

There is no official word on what was discussed. Officially, the Chinese refrain is that Beijing maintains contact with all parties related to the peace talks in Afghanistan. Pakistan daily, Express Tribune, reported on 31 July 2016 that apart from holding talks with Chinese officials, the Taliban delegation also met with officials from US and other countries in Beijing.

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The Taliban made many such visits to China for meetings with the Chinese top brass. At the end of 2014, Taliban sent a secret delegation in Beijing to meet several senior officials. In May 2015, China organized a meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Urumqi, the capital of restive Xinjiang province in Western China.

China has been supplying arms and weapons to the Taliban under an end-1998 agreement. In return, the Taliban promised not to "provide any training to Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang province and that it will assist the Chinese authorities maintain places of worship and madrassas in China".

Beijing works on the premise that radicalism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt is a threat to security in Xinjiang. It has, therefore, tried to block the access to weapons and training to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which could be provided by the Taliban or other radical forces operating in Pakistan.

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In meetings in December 2000 in Kandahar, the then-Taliban's leader Mohammed Omar Lu Shulin assured China's ambassador to Pakistan that the Taliban would not "allow any group to use its territory to conduct any such operations against China". In exchange, Omar sought formal political recognition and protection from UN sanctions from China. This process, however, did not go very far as China had doubts about the Taliban, and Beijing eventually broke ties.

China-Taliban re-engagement began after the US invasion of Kabul in 2003. Since then, China increased its economic commitment in Afghanistan and sought to play the role of a mediator between Kabul and Taliban.

Essentially, the Chinese were acting on behalf of Pakistan. The all-weather friend bluntly told the Chinese that for peace in Xinjiang they would have to work towards getting the Taliban to the negotiating table in Kabul.

For years, Pakistan had permitted the ETIM to have a base and shelter in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. And so, while Beijing continued to put pressure on Islamabad to act against ETIM elements in Waziristan, Pakistan did a reverse goal by asking Beijing to get involved in the Taliban talks.

Chinese intervention in Afghanistan is a natural outcome of its predilections of being a world power. That apart Beijing was keen to work with its South Asian ally as a counter to the US in the Afghan theatre.

Pakistan actually introduced China to the Taliban with the objective of countering American moves in the region. Subsequently, it became a tool in their diplomatic maneuver to keep all sides balanced in Afghanistan.

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Toward this end, China provided Afghanistan with aid and assistance totalling US $ 250 million and trained thousands of professionals. In 2014, it promised US $ 330 million over next three years.

For China, Afghanistan morphed into a route for bilateral diplomacy with Pakistan as well as multilateral diplomacy at forums like Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

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A blogger since July 2008 James Duglous Crickton is a London based consultant working with a consultancy firm focusing on Asia, particularly South Asia and East Asia. Political Research is his functional focus area. While his interests are (more...)
 

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