China, Russia, Pakistan and Turkey all appear set to formally recognise Taliban rule in neighbouring Afghanistan after the Islamist terror group seized the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Sunday and the country’s embattled president fled for Tajikistan.
Most global powers are reluctant to recognise the rule of the militant group overthrown by US-led coalition forces in 2001, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that Afghanistan cannot be allowed to become a ‘breeding ground for terror’ again.
But Beijing and Islamabad could break rank in order to form closer ties with the likely new government, with Chinese state media preparing its people to accept the likely scenario that the Communist Party might have to recognise the Islamist group.
In China, a series of photos were published last month by state media showing Foreign Minister Wang Yi standing shoulder to shoulder with visiting Taliban officials decked out in traditional tunic and turban in Tianjin.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan has said that there are no plans to evacuate the Russian Embassy in Kabul, with Russian state media reporting that the Taliban has promised to guarantee the safety of its diplomatic staff.
‘The organisation has ‘good relations with Russia’ and a ‘policy in general to ensure safe conditions for the functioning of the Russian and other embassies,’ news agency AP quoted Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, as saying to Tass.
And Iran, which has long been wary of the Sunni Muslim Taliban, has moved to ensure the safety of its diplomats and staff after previously offering to help end the crisis during talks in July.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political chief of Afghanistan’s Taliban, in Tianjin, China July 28, 2021
The Taliban has said they will soon declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in Kabul as militants posed in the office
An image appearing to show Taliban militants at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Sunday
Left: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Right: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The militants were seen in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman hours after taking control of Jalalabad, the most recent major Afghan city to fall to the insurgents as they make huge gains across Afghanistan
We’ll get Britons out of Afghanistan ASAP says Boris Johnson as he finally breaks his silence on the chaos in the country hours after posing for pictures with Team GB
Boris Johnson says the Government is getting Britons out of Afghanistan ‘as fast as we can’ after posing for pictures with Team GB Olympians.
The Prime Minister has earlier posed for publicity pictures with athletes at an event in London as Downing Street said ministers and senior officials would meet on Sunday afternoon to discuss the worsening situation.
Now, following meeting of Cobra, Mr Johnson said the situation in Afghanistan remains ‘difficult’, and the Government’s priority is ‘to make sure we deliver on our obligations to UK nationals in Afghanistan, to all those who have helped the British effort… over 20 years and to get them out as fast as we can.’
The Prime Minister today said that it is ‘clear’ there is ‘going to be very shortly a new government in Kabul, or a new political dispensation’.
He told Sky News: ‘I think it’s very important that the West collectively should work together to get over to that new government, be it by the Taliban or anybody else, that nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror.’
He added: ‘This has in many ways been a chronicle of an event foretold, I think we’ve known for some time this is the way things were going and as I said before, this is a mission whose military component really ended for the UK in 2014, what we’re dealing with now is the very likely advent of a new regime in Kabul, we don’t know exactly what kind of a regime that will be.’
It comes as Dominic Raab flew back to Britain from his holiday amid the Afghanistan crisis. The Foreign Office refused to say where the Foreign Secretary was but said he was expected to land in the UK today.
Last month, Chinese officials posed with Taliban officials in Tianjin, in what was regarded as recognition of the likely resurgence of the terror group in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal from the country.
‘Even if they can’t control the whole country, they would still be a significant force to reckon with’, an influential social media commentator known to be familiar with China’s foreign policy thinking and who goes by the pen name Niutanqin, or ‘Zither-Playing Cow’ wrote on Thursday.
On Friday, the Global Times, a major state-backed tabloid, published an interview with the leader of an Afghan opposition party who said ‘the transitional government must include the Taliban’.
The Taliban’s momentum as US forces withdraw is awkward for China, which has blamed religious extremism as a destabilising force in its western Xinjiang region and has long worried that Taliban-controlled territory would be used to harbour separatist forces.
But China also hews to a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. It has also drastically tightened security in Xinjiang, hardening its borders and putting what UN experts and rights groups estimate were at least a million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in detention centres that China describes as vocational training facilities to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism.
Last month’s meeting in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin followed a similar visit by a Taliban delegation in 2019, but comes as the group is much more powerful, with Wang saying he hoped Afghanistan can have a ‘moderate Islamist policy’.
In dealing with the Taliban, an increasingly powerful China may be able to leverage the fact that, unlike Russia or the United States, it has never fought them.
When the Taliban were last in power between 1996-2001, China had already suspended relations with Afghanistan, having pulled out its diplomats in 1993 following the outbreak of civil war.
‘This is us being pragmatic. How you want to rule your country is largely your own business, just don’t let that affect China,’ said Lin Minwang, a South Asia expert with Shanghai’s Fudan University.
‘When a major Asian power like China shows it recognizes Taliban’s political legitimacy by meeting them so openly, it is giving the Taliban a big diplomatic win,’ Lin said.
State media published at least two analytical stories this week highlighting that Afghanistan had been the ‘graveyard of empires’ and cautioning China not to be mired in the ‘Great Game’, reinforcing a message that China harbours neither the intentions of sending troops into Afghanistan nor the illusion that it can fill the power vacuum left by the United States.
After their meeting with Wang, the Taliban said they hope China can play a bigger economic role.
‘This shows that China might have dangled promises of economic aid and investment to a post-war Afghanistan as a carrot to encourage both sides to stop fighting and reach a political settlement,’ said Zhang Li, a professor of South Asian studies at Sichuan University.
‘China’s number one priority is for the fighting to stop, as chaos breeds religious extremism and terrorism,’ Zhang said.
Images show Kabul Airport descending into chaos as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan continues
Militants seized the ancient palace on Sunday and demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’
Taliban patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 15 August 2021
An Afghan soldier stands in a military vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021
A US Chinook helicopter flies over the city of Kabul as diplomatic vehicles leave the compound after the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital
Militants seized the ancient palace on Sunday and demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ as they moved into the capital, which has been gripped by panic throughout the day as US helicopters raced overhead as its diplomats were evacuated from the embassy. Bagram air base, holding ISIS and Taliban fighters, was also surrendered by troops on Sunday despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the United States and NATO over the past two decades to build up Afghanistan’s security forces
Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Presidential envoy to Afghanistan, told the Interfax news agency that the Russian Ambassador and his staff are ‘calmly carrying out their duties.’
Moscow is working with other countries to hold an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan. Russia is one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with the United States, Britain, France, and China.
Pakistan, which has been accused of harbouring Taliban fighters, could also back the group after Imran Khan refused to condemn their recent atrocities. Their endorsement could worsen Pakistan’s relations with India who have already been warned by the Taliban not to engage in any military action in Afghanistan.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will work for stability in Afghanistan along with Pakistan, in order to stem a growing migration wave amid the Taliban’s countrywide offensive.
Mr Erdogan told a naval ceremony with Pakistan’s president thatr Afghans were increasingly attempting to migrate to Turkey via Iran, urging an international effort to bring stability to the country and prevent mass migration.
He said Pakistan had a ‘vital task’ to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, where clashes have intensified. Turkish-Pakistani cooperation would be needed for this, and Turkey would use all possibilities to do so, Mr Erdogan added.