On Sunday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with his US counterpart by phone and said the US needs to take concrete steps to help Afghanistan and guide the Taliban in a positive way for peace to be achieved in the country. The Chinese advice is for Washington to pacify its relations with the new Afghan government so that it can then demand in return a non-violent stance from the Taliban, fulfilling the group’s promises to respect the actions of embassies, companies, and NGOs in Afghan territory. The pragmatic stance presented by China, in fact, seems to be the only possible path for the Afghan case – and the US tends to admit this.
During a conversation with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Wang Yi said: “While respecting the sovereignty of Afghanistan, the U.S. should take concrete action to help Afghanistan fight terrorism and stop violence, rather than playing double standards or fighting terrorism selectively.” The Chinese minister also warned that the precipitous withdrawal of the US troops could allow terrorist groups to regroup and return to act more strongly, which is why a coordinated and cooperative action with the Afghan government and international society must be planned.
Obviously, not all the details of the conversation between the two diplomats were revealed, with just a few words coming to light. But the spokesperson of the US State Department Ned Price, “summarized” the conversation saying that Wang and Blinken spoke about “the importance of the international community holding the Taliban accountable for the public commitments they have made regarding the safe passage and freedom to travel for Afghans and foreign nationals”.
According to American media, the call was made at the request of the American government, but the main advice and guidelines for a policy on Afghanistan were passed on by the Chinese official. Wang stated that Washington must work with the international community and provide economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, as well as assist the new government to carry out normal government functions, maintain social stability and prevent currency devaluation and rising living costs, considering that an economic crisis can further favor the proliferation of violence. In other words, the Chinese diplomat invited the US to act diplomatically with the de facto Taliban government, just as China is trying to do.
The important thing for Beijing is not which group will be in power, but whether that group can act to establish order and peace. Strictly speaking, the Taliban is also a terrorist organization, but in practice it is the enemy of other terrorist organizations that are much more dangerous, in addition to having a stronger military apparatus than the Afghan State itself. So, a Taliban government can be an important tool to prevent an even worse scenario from forming in Afghanistan. This approach by Beijing is also being gradually adopted by Russia and it is a trend for the entire international society to adopt such stance in the near future. For that, American cooperation would be an important step and would accelerate the search for peace in Kabul.
Another point to be emphasized is the need to demand from the Taliban the commitment that the group assumed with respect to embassies, NGOs, companies and the flow of people and goods. For months, Taliban officials have been saying that they will not tolerate the country’s military occupation, but that they will allow diplomats and businessmen to act, as well as the arrival of humanitarian aid, as it is in the Taliban’s interest for Afghanistan to develop and have a rapid economic recovery. China is stepping up its dialogue with the Taliban precisely for this reason, considering Beijing’s interest in investing large sums to integrate Afghanistan into the Belt and Road Initiative.
And that is what the Chinese are calling on Washington and the entire West to do: cease political pressure on the Taliban and establish ties of economic cooperation, as only then it will be possible to demand from the group, in return, the promised posture of respect for civilians and foreign citizens and companies. In the same sense, the issue of military cooperation is included. The only way to prevent the proliferation of terrorist groups in the country is through cooperation with the local government and such cooperation is only possible if there are good diplomatic relations. If diplomacy is established, it may be viable for other countries, in the near future, to assist in sending troops to work together with the local government in security schemes.
One way or another, Washington will have to admit a neutral stance on the Taliban. The US is just having to deal with the consequences of its own actions. If the country had not paved the way for the Taliban to rise, the current situation would have been different, but as it happened, the reality is that the new Afghan government is controlled by the Taliban. And, like any other government, the Taliban must be treated with respect and as peacefully as possible. Washington doesn’t seem to have many options other than following the path indicated by China.
Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.