As the situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan, there is a renewed diplomatic push to prevent the likely civil war in the neighbouring country.
Last few days saw hectic diplomatic activities in the region on the Afghan front. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed visited China while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in New Delhi. The focus of these visits was Afghanistan.
The visit by Qureshi and Faiz came against the backdrop of the July 14 terrorist attack in Kohistan in which nine Chinese nationals were killed.
Initially, it was termed an accident but now both Pakistan and China have concluded that it was indeed a terrorist attack. The DG ISI shared investigations into the Kohistan bus attack with Chinese officials. There is no official word yet on who is involved in the attack, but official sources point a finger at East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uyghur Islamic extremist organisation founded in western China. Chinese and Pakistani authorities believe that the banned TTP may have helped ETIM carry out the attack. Both ETIM and TTP were based in the erstwhile tribal areas of Pakistan before they were driven out of the region after a military operation in 2014. Both the groups are now based across the border and are thought to be enjoying the backing of the Afghan Taliban.
Just days after the visit by Qureshi and Faiz, an Afghan delegation headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited China. Although China has maintained contacts with the Taliban for some time, it was for the first time that Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi shared the stage with the Afghan Taliban delegation. Some in the US and India criticised the Chinese for “legitimising a group that is causing havoc in Afghanistan”. But the fact of the matter is that the US has already acknowledged the Afghan Taliban when it signed the Doha deal in February 2020. So, China as well as other countries – including Russia and Iran – which in the past opposed the Taliban have embraced a more pragmatic approach. China is worried that an increasing uncertainty and violence in Afghanistan would hamper its economic plans. The fallout of the unrest in Afghanistan may endanger CPEC, the flagship project of the BRI.
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The idea behind China inviting the Afghan Taliban delegation was to engage with a group who could potentially be in power or has major share in the government in Afghanistan. But behind closed doors, China has conveyed a clear message to the Afghan Taliban. Beijing wants the Taliban to make a complete break from ETIM and other terrorist groups that pose a direct threat to China’s national security. This was also reflected in the Chinese Foreign Minister expressing the hope that the Afghan Taliban would not only cut ties with ETIM but also take action against them.
Pakistan also delivered a similar message to the Afghan Taliban seeking action against the banned TTP. The Afghan Taliban’s spokesperson, responding to concerns harboured by China and other countries, claimed that the group would not allow the Afghan soil to be used against any country in the neighbourhood and beyond. The question remains: will the Taliban cut ties with the ETIM and TTP and other terrorist outfits? For so long officials in Pakistan have been giving the impression that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP were different entities. But with the Afghan Taliban making inroads, the official narrative is also changing. Now we are being told that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are the two sides of the same coin. Given the close connection among these militant groups who also share the same ideology, there is skepticism about the Afghan Taliban’s commitment to maintain distance from these terrorist outfits. Thus the million dollar question: can the Afghan Taliban be trusted?
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