China asks Taliban to make 'clean break' with all terrorist forces, return to mainstream Afghan politics

Posted 3 months, 1 week ago

In a significant policy statement on the Taliban which is making big gains in its offensive in Afghanistan, China has asked it to make a "clean break" from all terrorist forces, especially the al-Qaida-backed Uyghur Muslim militant group ETIM fighting for the volatile Xinjiang province's independence. On the other hand, Russia on Wednesday said that the Taliban is a "current reality" in Afghanistan and it must deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate.

In his media briefing at Dushanbe, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that further spread of the war in Afghanistan, especially an all-out civil war, should be avoided and pitched for restarting of intra-Afghan negotiations to realise political reconciliation and prevention of all kinds of terrorist forces from gaining ground in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, as a major military force in Afghanistan, should realise the responsibilities it bears for the nation, make a "clean break" with all terrorist forces and return to the mainstream of Afghan politics, Wang said on Tuesday.

He also praised the Afghanistan government —which often accuses Beijing's "all-weather ally" Pakistan of harbouring the Taliban militants — saying that the government headed by President Ashraf Ghani has done a lot of work for national unity, social stability and improvement of people's livelihood, which should be justly evaluated.

Wang made the remarks during a joint press conference with Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin following their talks in Dushanbe, official media here reported on Wednesday.

His comments came ahead of the Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe to be attended by Wang besides External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Significantly, Afghanistan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar has been invited to take part in the SCO contact group which will meet soon after the Foreign Ministers meeting.

The eight-member SCO grouping consists of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. Afghanistan is an observer of the SCO group.

Wang said that post the US troop withdrawal, China expects Afghanistan to establish a broadly inclusive political arrangement, pursue a solid Muslim policy, resolutely combat all terrorism and extremist ideologies, and be committed to friendly relations with all neighbouring countries.

Observers say Wang's comments on the Taliban indicate that China is not buying the Taliban's recent overtures stating that it considers Beijing as a "friend".

China is concerned that hundreds of East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) fighters, reportedly grouping in Afghanistan, mostly Badakhshan province sharing a 90-km long border with Xinjiang through the narrow Wakhan corridor, will sneak into Xinjiang or through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Central Asia states.

The ETIM is trying to carry out an insurgency in Uyghur Muslim dominated Xinjiang province. Xinjiang also shares borders with PoK and Tajikistan.

China's massive crackdown in Xinjiang, observers say, has exasperated the resentment among native Uyghur Muslims in the province and prompted the US, the EU and international human rights organisations to accuse Beijing of committing genocide.

Also, the 12th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the United Nations last month confirmed the presence of ETIM militants in Afghanistan.

"The ETIM consists of several hundred members, located primarily in Badakhshan and neighbouring Afghan provinces, the report submitted to the UN Security Council said.

Amidst the Taliban gains, China evacuated 210 of its nationals from Afghanistan last week.

Playing down China's concerns, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said his group sees China as a "friend" of Afghanistan and is hoping to talk to Beijing about investing in reconstruction work "as soon as possible".

Shaheen also said that the Taliban would no longer allow China's Uyghur separatist fighters from Xinjiang, some of whom had previously sought refuge in Afghanistan, to enter the country.

The Taliban would also prevent al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group from operating there, he said.

"We have been to China many times and we have good relations with them, Shaheen told Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post on July 10, recalling the meetings hosted by China in the past.

"China is a friendly country that we welcome for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan, he said, adding that "If (the Chinese) have investments, of course, we ensure their safety".

Commenting on the Taliban's overtures to Beijing, Andrew Small, a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marsh Fund said: whatever benign language the Taliban use, China remains highly concerned about the security situation there.

He said that China's biggest concern in its dealings with the Taliban had always been whether it was sheltering Uyghur separatists and whatever benign language the Taliban use, China remains highly concerned about the security situation there.

In his media briefing at Dushanbe, Wang stressed that further spread of the war in Afghanistan, especially an all-out civil war, should be avoided and pitched for restarting of intra-Afghan negotiations to realise political reconciliation and prevention of all kinds of terrorist forces from gaining ground in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is an independent and sovereign country and history shows that any coercive intervention in Afghanistan is bound to fail, he said, indicating China's unwillingness to commit its military to the war-torn country to fill in the void left by the US and NATO troops.

Considering the security risks, China is goading Pakistan, which shares close ties with the Taliban, to help stabilise Afghanistan amidst the Taliban offensive.

It is yet to be seen how Wang's praise of the Afghan government for doing good work will be received in Pakistan as it shares frosty ties with the Ashraf Ghani government over its allegation of harbouring the Taliban militants.

Early this month, Wang who has stepped up trilateral diplomacy with Pakistan and Afghanistan persuading them to resolve their differences, asked Islamabad to step up cooperation to contain security risks in Afghanistan in the light of the latest offensive by the Taliban following the withdrawal of the US.

"(China and Pakistan) need to defend regional peace together. Problems in Afghanistan are practical challenges that China and Pakistan both face," especially the expansion of both international and regional terrorism, Wang said on July 8 while addressing a meeting of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Pakistan here.

In his address to the SCO Foreign Ministers' meeting on Wednesday, Wang called for a crackdown on terrorist forces designated by the UN Security Council, such as the "three evil forces" of terrorism, extremism and separatism, and the ETIM.

He stressed upholding the common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security concept by the SCO members.

Meanwhile, even Russia made some comments over the issue

Taliban must deal with terrorism to become legitimate: Russia

Russia on Wednesday said that the Taliban is a "current reality" in Afghanistan and it must deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate, noting that there was no military solution to the unfolding situation in that country.
Deputy Chief of the Russian mission Roman Babushkin, at a joint media briefing with Ambassador Nikolay Kudashev, also said that India has a huge interest in Afghanistan and it is for New Delhi to decide the extent of its involvement in the conflict-ridden country.

Kudashev said both India and Russia are supportive of the intra-Afghan talks based on commitments of the parties concerned to ensure that the future Afghan government will be inclusive.

"It's critically important to support Afghans in making their country independent, sovereign, united and democratic. After the Western troops started their speedy withdrawal, regional efforts are becoming even more important," he said.

Babushkin said Afghanistan is going through a critical period and that there could be no military solution to it.

He said both Russia and India are committed to the dialogue process in Afghanistan and actively monitoring the evolving situation in that country.

"Taliban is a current reality in Afghanistan. It is a party in the intra-Afghan talks which we believe should be a solution for normalisation and establishment of an inclusive government that should be involving all major ethnic groups," he said replying to a volley of questions.

To a question on acts of terror by the Taliban, Babushkin said Russia''s position has never changed on the issue and indicated that both Moscow and New Delhi have a clear view of it.

"We are quite committed to tackling the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan. Although both Taliban and al-Qaeda are organisations that are internationally recognised as terrorists and they are prohibited in Russia also. The Russian position is consistent when it comes to international terrorism," he said.

"Taliban is legitimate only when it deals with terrorism in the way that... Let us realise that there is a common approach supported by everyone that Taliban should deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate, in order to (get) delisted, in order to go ahead with the future Afghanistan and creation of the inclusive government," Babushkin said.

Asked about India''s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval pitching for an action plan by the SCO against Pakistan-based terror groups, Babushkin said the bloc functions under the principle of consensus but added that both Russia and India have a similar position in dealing with international terrorism.

Last month in an address at the SCO meet, Doval called for an "action plan" by the SCO to deal with Pakistan-based terror groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Referring to escalating violence in Afghanistan, he said military activities without political process are worrying.

Asked whether India and Russia would consider jointly provide support to strengthen Afghan security forces including by repairing Russian-origin military helicopters in Afghanistan, he did not give a direct reply but did not rule out such support.

The Russian diplomat said India has been involved in active regional diplomacy on Afghanistan and described it as "very encouraging".

Babushkin also referred to terms of negotiations under which the US was withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.

"We all remember that under the mediation of the US, there were steps planned for normalisation and launch of the political process... These aspects are to be implemented by Afghanistan," he said.

Afghanistan witnessed a series of terror attacks in the last few weeks as the US looked to complete the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by August-end, ending a nearly two-decade of its military presence in the war-ravaged country.

The volatile situation in Afghanistan has triggered global concerns.

Earlier this month, the Indian embassy asked all Indians visiting, staying and working in Afghanistan to exercise the utmost caution with regard to their security and avoid all types of non-essential travel in view of rising incidents of violence in various parts of the country.

In an advisory, the embassy said the security situation in Afghanistan remains "dangerous" and that terror groups have carried out a series of complex attacks including targeting civilians, adding Indian nationals additionally face a "serious threat" of kidnapping.

India has been a major stakeholder in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. It has already invested nearly USD three billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the country.

India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.