By Our Correspondent
NEW DELHI–China is the first country that appointed a new ambassador four days ago after the Taliban forced the US-led NATO forces to leave the country in 2021 and took over the government in Kabul by throwing out the Western-backed government of Ashraf Ghani.
Though the Taliban have been the actual rulers of Afghanistan since 2021, their government is not recognized by any country, not even the United Nations where the Afghanistan seat continues to be allotted to the ousted Ashraf Ghani government.
It is in this context that the role of China sending a new ambassador to the war-torn country assumes significance. However, it is not clear if this is a step in the direction of giving recognition to Afghanistan by China, the only country that is challenging the might of the US and its European partners at the global level.
The basic reason for the US and its European allies not giving recognition to the new Afghanistan government is that the Taliban have named their country as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and are running the government as per Shariah laws. The Western powers do not want any government based on Shariah laws because it will end the Western domination on the countries run by strict Islamic laws. The Western powers are keeping most of the countries under their control through interest-based loans by International Monetary Fund and World Bank, not allowed under the Islamic or Shariah laws. The Western powers had conspired to throw the Government of Mujahideen headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar because Hekmatyar had refused to withdraw the Shariah laws.
Ambassador Zhao Sheng presented his credentials to Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund at the Presidential Palace at a ceremony on September 13, where he was warmly welcomed.
However, the Western media has downplayed the development saying that the new diplomatic step of China is aimed at ensuring that the Taliban do not allow anti-China militants to use Afghan soil to launch attacks against Chinese interests. While Western countries suspended all financial aid and imposed economic sanctions on the Taliban government, China has made considerable investments in Afghanistan to stabilize its economy and deal with the serious humanitarian crisis that developed due to the anti-Afghanistan actions of the Western powers.
Following the fall of Kabul where the U.S.-led military coalition left in August 2021 after two decades of war, the Taliban has been facing the challenge of non-recognition of its government by any country in the world as well as by the United Nations. No country has formally recognized the Taliban government, as the international community continues to grapple with how to engage with the Taliban authorities.
Afghanistan’s seat at the U.N. is still held by former Western-backed government which was led by Ashraf Ghani. Only a handful of nations, including China, have working diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, while some countries have started a dialogue with the Taliban leaders on the scope for starting bilateral relations if the latter agree to an inclusive political settlement within the country with equal and meaningful participation of women in public life.
U.N. Security Council passed a resolution under India’s presidency in August 2021 urging the international community to ensure that Afghanistan is not used as a base to launch an attack on another country, nor should it act as a shelter or financier. The resolution number 2593 also called on all parties to seek an “inclusive, negotiated political settlement, with the participation of women.”
Taliban has praised China’s decision to nominate the new Ambassador and said his arrival in Kabul is a sign for other nations to come forward and establish relations with Afghanistan. China and Afghanistan have been open about their desire for closer ties, especially commercial ones, as China is the world’s second-largest economy. Zhao Sheng was greeted by uniformed troops and he met top-ranking Taliban officials, including Akhund and Foreign Affairs Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi amidst a lavish protocol.
According to the Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, it is a tradition for new Ambassadors to present their credentials to the head of the country. “It also signals to other countries to come forward and interact with the Islamic Emirate. We should establish good relations as a result of good interactions and, with good relations, we can solve all the problems that are in front of us or coming in the future,” Mujahid was quoted as saying by media outlets.
However, it is still not clear whether China wants to give official recognition to the Taliban government. Zhao Sheng has been posted in Kabul after the end of the tenure of the outgoing Ambassador, Wang Yu, who took up the role in 2019 when the Ashraf Ghani regime was in power. He completed his tenure last month.
There are other diplomats in Kabul with the title of Ambassador, but all of them took up their posts before 2021. Only a handful of countries and bodies, such as Pakistan and the European Union, have since sent senior diplomats to lead diplomatic missions using the title charge d’affaires, which does not require presenting Ambassadorial credentials to the host nation.
India also reopened its Embassy in June 2022 in a step towards re-establishing its presence in Afghanistan and a technical team of officials is at present based in Kabul. A team headed by a senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs, J.P. Singh, travelled to Kabul earlier to meet Foreign Affairs Minister Muttqai and Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and received specific assurances on security for the deployment.
A statement from China’s Embassy in Afghanistan has urged the international community to maintain its dialogue and encourage the country to put in place an inclusive political framework, adopt moderate policies, combat terrorism, and develop friendly external relations. It said certain countries need to “draw lessons” from what happened in Afghanistan, abandon double standards on combating terrorism, return the country’s overseas assets, and lift sanctions.
During the last two years after the takeover, the Taliban has sought to keep the struggling economy afloat and improve domestic security, besides avoiding internal divisions, fighting corruption, and controlling opium production. Despite the West freezing the Afghan assets worth billions of dollars and refusing to end its financial isolation, the Taliban has sought to address a humanitarian crisis with its untiring efforts.
Washington has already frozen about 9.5 billion U.S. dollars in Afghanistan’s reserves and the International Monetary Fund cut off 500 million U.S. dollars in financing after the Taliban gained control of the country. But China, which is undeterred, has established China Town in Kabul from where it conducts trade with Afghanistan and Pakistan. China had earlier signed an agreement with Afghanistan for exploring and exploiting the copper mines of Afghanistan, but for some political reasons that agreement could not be implemented on the ground.
With the new Ambassador’s nomination, China expects to expand the avenues of economic cooperation with Afghanistan and get the benefit of exploration of vast mineral wealth in the country, which has largely remained untouched so far. In the past, Afghanistan produced rubies, emeralds, tourmalines, and lapis lazuli, while it today produces the ever more valuable iron, copper, lithium, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium, and chromium.
Despite the importance of these minerals for modern technologies, it may take up to a decade for large-scale mining to turn profitable. Beijing’s cooperation with its investment and expertise will be crucial in this sector. There is a massive global demand for metals, particularly copper, lithium, and rare earth elements, which are essential for renewable energy and the electric vehicle industry.