Taliban: China is a welcome 'friend' in Afghanistan, will not interfere in country's internal affairs

The Taliban have also promised not to host Uyghur militants in Afghanistan.

Matthias Ang | July 13, 2021, 05:15 PM

The Taliban have stated that they will guarantee the safety of Chinese investors and workers if they choose to return to Afghanistan.

Speaking to South China Morning Post's This Week in Asia in an exclusive interview, the group's spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen said that the Taliban sees China as a "friend" and that they were keen to begin talks with Beijing about investing in reconstruction work "as soon as possible."

Shaheen added, "We welcome them. If they have investments of course we ensure their safety. Their safety is very important for us."

Will not interfere in China's internal affairs, such as Xinjiang

The Taliban also stated that they would not interfere in China's internal affairs, despite their past support for Uyghur militants the Wall Street Journal reported.

A senior official in the Taliban's political office in Doha, Qatar, was quoted as saying:

"We care about the oppression of Muslims, be it in Palestine, in Myanmar, or in China, and we care about the oppression of non-Muslims anywhere in the world. But what we are not going to do is interfere in China’s internal affairs."

Shaheen added that while the Taliban were concerned for the plight of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, they would engage China through political dialogue to aid their fellow Muslims.

He said, "We do not know the details. But if we have the details, we will show our concern. If there are some problems with the Muslims, of course we will talk with the Chinese government."

When asked if a Taliban-dominated Afghan government would join Western countries in denouncing China over human-rights abuses in Xinjiang, Shaheen replied that such a decision would depend on current ground realities.

Taliban will not host Uyghur separatists in Afghanistan

Shaheen further highlighted that the Taliban would abide by a Feb. 2020 deal struck in Doha with the U.S., which included an agreement by the Taliban to not let Afghanistan's territory be used against other countries and not accept refugees or exiles out the framework of international migration law.

As such, this means that the group will no longer allow Uyghur separatist fighters to enter the country, This Week in Asia further quoted him as saying, along with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

According to Foreign Policy, relations between Uyghur militants and the Taliban go back to 1998 when a group of Uyghurs entered Afghanistan at that time, while it was under Taliban rule, with the goal of launching a religiously-inspired insurgency against Chinese rule.

However, although the Taliban agreed to let the group settle in Afghanistan, they also acceded to a request by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to not allow the group to pose a threat to China.

This meant that by 2000, the group and other like-minded Uyghur refugees were confined to Kabul where the Taliban could monitor and control their actions.

Why is the Taliban putting out friendly messages to China?

The Taliban's recent slew of friendly messages to China comes amidst their claim that they have seized control of 85 per cent of Afghanistan, in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. troops, UK media The Independent reported.

The group has recently made a string of military advances in the country's northern provinces near China.

Afghanistan's government has since dismissed their statement as a propaganda stunt.

However, the situation has prompted concern in China, with the country's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, linking the escalating violence to the "abrupt" withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

On July 8, Chinese state-controlled media outlet Global Times reported that China had evacuated 210 Chinese nationals from Afghanistan, with 52 of the nationals on the flight testing positive for Covid-19.

It also quoted an expert at Tsinghua University, in another op-ed, who slammed the U.S. withdrawal as "irresponsible and hasty" and said that instability had begun to spill over onto neighbouring states as a result of U.S. actions.

Chinese state media acknowledges Shaheen's remarks

However, a Global Times op-ed also took notice of Shaheen's remarks, and gave the following statement:

"This is the recognition for China's active participation in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and sends a signal to Beijing to further engage in this reconstruction, as development and stability are intertwined, Li Shaoxian, director of China-Arab Research Institute at Ningxia University, told the Global Times."

AP News reported that Afghanistan's security issues will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which is led by China and Russia, with Afghanistan as an observer.

Another spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, said that the group's members, which are mostly the central Asian countries, Pakistan, and India, will discuss "promoting regional security and stability, advancing the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, and deepening cooperation between the SCO and Afghanistan."

Why did the U.S. withdraw?

According to U.S. President Joe Biden, the country has completed its objectives of finding Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 2001 terror attacks and leader of Al-Qaeda, the Financial Times reported.

Biden said, "That’s why we went. We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.'

As such, it is now up to Afghans to "decide their future" and "how they want to run their country", he added.

In stressing that keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan for one more year was not a solution, he said, "I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome."

Left photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images , right image via Oriental Daily News