China Pulls Taliban Out Of Isolation; Beijing Eyes Afghanistan’s Mines To Dominate Smartphone, EV Market?

A report in India’s News18 on December 23, 2022, published an interesting news: China needs Afghanistan’s lithium and copper mines to dominate the supply chains of components needed to make electric vehicle batteries and smartphones.

A week before that news was broken, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, had visited Kabul to meet with Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. This was the first highest-level meeting between China and the Taliban regime after the Taliban had toppled the elected government in Kabul.

As a goodwill gesture, Wang Yi had invited Muttaqi to the third meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighbors on March 30 and 31 in Tunxi, Anhui.

Since 2021, China has been in close touch with the Taliban and has been eyeing her lithium and copper mines. It is not only Afghanistan but the mineral deposits across the world are also what China has been looking for, the Financial Times reported,

The paper adds, “The meeting will possibly begin with the investment of the Chinese into mines in Afghanistan,” as stated by Ahmad Munib Rasa, a political analyst who was talking to TOLO News.

One of the world’s biggest copper deposits is located at Mes Aynak, south-east of Kabul. According to the Financial Times, the copper deposits also came under discussion between Muttaqi and Wang Yi during their talks in Beijing.

Chinese delegations are also reported to have visited Nangarhar and Laghman provinces of Afghanistan to examine accessibility to other minerals. 

Acceptance & Contradiction

A quick survey of Sino-Taliban relations reveals that China had been considerate and sympathetic towards the Afghan Taliban from the day it ousted the elected government in Kabul.

Many rumors associated with Chinese expansionist designs in the Muslim-dominated countries in the Gulf and the Middle East were making rounds. These rumors intensified with the hotchpotch withdrawal of the US and NATO armed forces from Afghanistan after nearly three decades of fighting.

It appears that China has not given terrorism the extraordinary importance that countries like India, Japan, or South Korea have. When China twice vetoed the majority resolutions in the Security Council designating the Pakistani perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage, the entire world was stunned by how China openly patronized terrorism anywhere if it harmed the interests of other countries not friendly to China.

Significantly, casting aside the cloak of ambiguity, Chinese President Xi Jinping took a bold step and, on January 29, 2024, in an official ceremony, accepted the credentials of the envoy to Beijing from Taliban-governed Afghanistan.

Ambassadors from 41 countries, including Afghanistan, presented their credentials to the Chinese President in the said ceremony. In December 2023, Afghan ambassador Bilal Karimi had met Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister.

Last year, China had imposed conditions for formally recognizing the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. It had stated that before complete diplomatic relations, the Afghan Taliban must undergo reform.

Beijing had categorically said that to obtain full diplomatic recognition, the government in Kabul would need to enact political changes, enhance security, and repair ties with its neighbors. Both nations were continuing their diplomatic relations and hosting each other’s diplomats at the same time. 

China had also said that while Afghanistan should not be kept outside the international community, the Taliban needed to live up to the expectations of the outside world.     

The curious thing is that reports of atrocities perpetrated on innocent citizens, especially the women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, are regularly pouring in. Though the Taliban had promised to show due respect to human rights and, in particular, the rights of women, this does not seem to have been translated into practice. 

How then did Beijing suddenly change its resolve remains a mystery. The simple explanation is that national interest has an overwhelming weight against human rights and public commitments. 

At the same time, China has repeatedly declared that it respects Afghanistan’s national sovereignty and its choices. It has also said it does not meddle in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs.   

Non-interference assurance by China is certainly in response to the commitment made by the Taliban that they will not allow their land to be used for militancy against another country.

This is an important commitment, but how long will Beijing stick to it is difficult to say. Nevertheless, as long as the threat of Uyghur Islamic uprising in Xinjiang remains a political scenario in the Eastern part of China, she would very much welcome the Taliban, promising not to allow their land to be used for militancy in another country.

In the recent past, a rumor was making circles that some Uyghur fundamentalist youth are receiving training in terror somewhere in Nangarhar, the northeastern part of Afghanistan.

It has to be noted that one of the conditions which Beijing has stipulated for recognition of Afghanistan was that, among other things, Kabul should mend its relations with its neighbours.

As of today, Pakistan is the only neighbor of Afghanistan with which relations are soured. Imposing this condition means that China wants to take Pakistan also into the loop so that Pakistan-based jihadists desist from propagating the Islamic resurgence movement among the Pakistan-based diehard jihadist-terrorist organizations.

Indo-Afghan Relations

China has taken the lead in giving formal recognition to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Not only that, it has also said that “Afghanistan should not be kept at a distance from the international community.”

This subtly points the finger towards the US and its allies, who have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan for violation of human rights. With China’s recognition of Afghanistan, it is obvious that a large number of Asian and African countries would follow suit.

India is foremost among the Asian countries and also among the democracies in the world, which will have to think twice about how her close relations with the Taliban regime must be shaped.

India has age-old relations with Afghanistan. Our history, including the history of the colonial period, is intertwined with that of the Afghans. Independent India has always extended the hand of friendship to the Afghans and supported their case at all international forums.

Thousands of Afghan students are studying in technical and professional institutions in India, and many of them receive scholarships from the Government of India. India is the foremost country that has assisted Afghanistan in building vital infrastructure like roads, buildings, bridges, dams, cinema halls, secretariat, etc.

India provides medical facilities to Afghan patients coming to India for treatment. India exported wheat to Afghanistan when there was a scarcity of food grains. India is a partner in the Chahbahar project, which will connect Chahbahar with Kabul by railway undertaken by India.

The Taliban government is conscious of India’s support and friendship. Though India has not formally recognized the Taliban so far, the nature of relations that India has with the Taliban shows that the two governments have developed an understanding between them.

India was among ten regional countries that participated in a meeting of diplomatic representatives convened by the Taliban set up in Kabul on January 31. It reflects the growing engagement with a regime not officially recognized by New Delhi.

India’s participation at the meeting of diplomatic representatives convened by the Taliban setup reflects the growing engagement with a regime that isn’t officially recognized by New Delhi.

Xi Jinping
File Image: Xi Jinping

The Regional Cooperation Initiative meeting, which was addressed by Taliban acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, was also attended by diplomats from Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Indonesia. Russia was represented by its special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov.

There was no official word from Indian officials on the meeting, which came days after the Indian embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) invited the acting Afghan envoy, Badru’d Din Haqqani, to the Republic Day celebrations in Abu Dhabi.

Hafiz Zia Ahmad, deputy spokesman of the Taliban foreign ministry, quoted the Indian representative who attended the meeting as saying that New Delhi backs all initiatives focused on the stability of Afghanistan.

“India actively takes part in international and regional initiatives regarding Afghanistan and supports every effort leading to the stability and the development of Afghanistan,” Ahmad quoted the Indian representative as saying in a post on X.

In this background, it is logical that India also takes initiatives purporting formal recognition of Afghanistan’s sovereignty. It would not be a figment of imagination to presume that Beijing’s hasty step of recognizing Taliban Afghanistan could have happened because the Chinese may have gotten wind of how Afghanistan was coming closer to India.

Though the philosophy of seeking friendship with Afghanistan by the two rival giants of India is markedly dissimilar, China feels that India’s heavy footfall in Afghanistan could pose a serious challenge to her B&R Initiative in this Asian region.

  • OPED By KN Pandita
  • Prof. Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former Director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views personal of the author.