30 March 2022
China is holding two multinational meetings in the ancient town of Tunxi to discuss the economic and humanitarian crisis facing Afghanistan, as Beijing makes a diplomatic push for the country’s stability and development under the Taliban.
Afghan acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi is attending the two-day meeting to be attended by foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours – Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Diplomats from Indonesia and Qatar will send their representatives as guest attendees to the regional meeting to be hosted by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.
The talks will “echo positively with the third meeting of foreign ministers of the Afghan neighbouring countries, to further cement the consensus of all parties … to help Afghanistan achieve peace, stability and development at an early date,” Wang Wenbin, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said.
A separate meeting of the “Extended Troika” will be held concurrently among special envoys for Afghanistan from China, the United States and Russia, China’s foreign ministry said.
“China, the US, Russia and Pakistan are all countries with significant influence on the Afghan issue,” the foreign ministry spokesperson Wang said of the Troika meeting at a daily briefing on Tuesday.
Tom West, the US special representative for Afghanistan, will attend the meeting of the so-called Extended Troika, a US State Department spokesperson said.
The meetings are being held in Tunxi, an ancient town in Anhui province, possibly because of the relative ease of maintaining a “bubble” amid coronavirus lockdown in major cities.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday arrived in Tunxi for the talks with his Chinese counterpart but it is not confirmed if he will attend the Afghan meetings.
Lavrov has largely stayed in Russia since last month’s invasion of Ukraine but did travel to Turkey on Tuesday for talks with his counterpart from Kyiv.
Taliban’s promise on human rights
The Afghan talks come against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as Afghanistan suffers an economic and humanitarian crisis worsened by a financial aid cutoff and sanctions following the Taliban takeover as US-led troops withdrew in August.
The Taliban, which fought the US forces for 20 years, returned to power in August after the West-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani collapsed.
The talks also come amid widespread condemnation of the Taliban’s U-turn last week on allowing girls to attend public high schools, which has sparked consternation among funders ahead of a key aid donors conference.
The school closure prompted US officials to cancel talks in Doha with the Taliban and a State Department warning that Washington saw the decision as “a potential turning point in our engagement” with the armed group.
The US believes that it shares with other Extended Troika members an interest in the Taliban making good on commitments to form an inclusive government, cooperate on “counterterrorism” and rebuild the Afghan economy, the State Department spokesperson said.
Diplomats and aid groups have warned that the Taliban decision to keep the schools shut could make donors, already facing increased needs because of the Ukraine crisis, scale back their commitments.
On Wednesday, the World Bank put four projects in Afghanistan worth $600m on hold over the school ban.
The UK on Wednesday pledged an additional 286 million pounds ($374m) for life-saving food and other aid in Afghanistan, a day ahead of an international conference seeking more than $4bn, even as concerns mount over Taliban rule.
The UN humanitarian appeal, the largest ever launched for a single country, is only 13 percent funded, UN spokesperson Jens Laerke said ahead of Thursday’s pledging conference.
Roughly 23 million people are experiencing acute hunger and 95 percent of Afghans are not eating enough, while 10 million children are in urgent need of aid to survive, according to the UN.
China has studiously avoided mentioning the limits on girls’ education and other human rights abuses, particularly those targeting women while keeping its Kabul embassy open.
Last week, the Chinese foreign minister visited the Afghan capital Kabul, where he met the acting Afghan foreign minister to discuss political and economic ties, including starting work in the mining sector and Afghanistan’s possible role in China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, the Afghan foreign ministry said.
The surprise stop in Kabul came as the international community fumes over the Taliban administration’s broken promise a day earlier to open schools to girls beyond the sixth grade.
China, in line with the international community, has not recognised Afghanistan’s so-called “Islamic Emirate”, but has refrained from making harsh criticism against the group.
A month before the Taliban took power, Wang, the foreign minister, had hosted a high-power delegation from the group on July 28, 2021, meeting in the Chinese port city of Tianjin. Wang referred to the group as “pivotal” force important to peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan.
On that and other occasions, the Chinese have pushed the Taliban for assurances it will not permit operations within its borders by members of China’s Turkic Muslim Uighur minority, which has faced repression from Beijing.