Misinterpretation of the Taliban and China

The deterioration of Afghanistan’s social and economic situation is obvious, and all international organizations and leading countries note it without exception. The author of these lines has repeatedly listed the statistics of the UN, the Asia Foundation, the World Bank, and other influential structures studying and collecting Data on Afghanistan. Amidst it all, the statement of official Beijing looks paradoxical, which does not suit the actual data and statistics. So, on the eve of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (IEA, the self-name of the country by the Talibs) A series of measures have been taken to grow the economy, eliminate corruption, ban drug cultivation and improve people’s wellbeing and public order, which has seen effective results”. “The IEA is committed to the peaceful reconstruction and independent development of Afghanistan and actively participates in exchange and cooperation with other countries,” stated Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning. 

“We hope that the Afghan interim government will build an inclusive government and exercise prudent governance, and continue to make positive efforts in a direction that serves the interests of the Afghan people and the expectations of the international community,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. No country in the world, including China, has not recognized the IEA yet, but regardless, Beijing keeps diplomatic and economic relations with Kabul.

The Taliban government responded to the statements from Beijing with substantial words. The Islamic Emirate is grateful to China for understanding the circumstances in Afghanistan and recognizing the achievements of the Islamic Emirate over the past two years, Taliban noted. “The Islamic Emirate respects the legitimate demands of the countries and their recommendations, and the current shortcomings will be eliminated. The Islamic Emirate continues to strive to strengthen its ties in economics and diplomacy,” Zabihullah Mujahid said.

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that only a nuanced and consolidated policy towards the Taliban by the international community can lead to positive results, stabilization of social processes, and economic development. At this stage, international mediators, the UN, and the leading countries of the world are involved in the process of complex diplomacy to integrate the Taliban into international diplomacy. This process requires particular consolidation and consists of two parameters: political and diplomatic pressure and encouragement. Due to certain concessions, modernization of the political system, and softening of manners by the Taliban, the international community is ready to cooperate. This process implies the gradual unfreezing of funds in Western banks belonging to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and a dialogue regarding the gradual process of diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime. 

In this regard, such statements as those made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry may adversely influence the diplomatic peace process with the Taliban. The Taliban has managed to make some progress in stabilizing the military situation. However, there are no results “on the eliminating of corruption, the fight against drug traffic and the improvement of people’s well-being,” as stated by Chinese diplomats. Taliban should be praised only when there are results.  For example, according to the UN International Labor Organization, the Taliban’s ascension to power in Afghanistan has led to rapid growth in the unemployment rate among the population. Based on the data of the UN, such a situation in the Afghan labor market was caused by the economic crisis and the prohibition on work for the female population. Over five hundred thousand people in Afghanistan lost their jobs during the first month of the Taliban rule. “The crisis has affected women the most. Thus, their employment level, already extremely low by world standards, decreased by 16% in the third quarter of last year. By mid—2022, it is projected to fall to 28%,” the UN investigation states.

Radicals within the organization, misinterpreting diplomatic statements, may feel overconfident and boost the modernization and liberalization of their political views. The possible way in which the most conservative and radical leaders within the Taliban will conclude that they do not need the support of the West, the UN, and the international community, in general. The radical wing of the Taliban may conclude they have enough support from the Pakistani military and China. 

However, a basic analysis of statistical information shows that neither China nor Pakistan have provided and are not providing such large-scale financial and humanitarian support to Afghanistan as the United States and representatives of Western countries have provided. The requirement made by international mediators to the Taliban are quite sound, without maximalism, and actually meet the interests of all parties.

In particular, the fight against international terrorist organizations on the territory of Afghanistan, the creation of an inclusive Government, the end of discrimination against women and national minorities, and the liberalization of the political system are also consonant with common sense and the logic of political science. 

If the great powers conduct a disparate geopolitical game in Afghanistan, trying to strengthen their positions the expense of world interests, this may lead to a loss of control over the processes. To maintain control, regional players, especially conservative groups of the Pakistani military, benefit from the isolation of the Taliban. This will help them to keep their hegemonic influence over them. However, this possibly leads to a situation similar to the times of the First Islamic Emirate of 1996-2001. In this regard, a consolidated position of international players, especially influential powers, is crucial to progress in the Afghan direction.

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.