China Eyes Post-War Reconstruction in Afghanistan Amid Promises of Peace From Taliban

State media say the US' withdrawal of troops was 'irresponsible,' and rule out the possibility of Chinese military involvement.
By Qiao Long and Chingman
China Eyes Post-War Reconstruction in Afghanistan Amid Promises of Peace From Taliban Taliban fighters take control of the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, in a screen grab from Al Jazeera, Aug. 16, 2021.

China stands poised to take part in post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan after U.S. troops ended a 20-year occupation, leaving the capital Kabul to be taken over by the Taliban, state media reported on Monday.

State news agency Xinhua reported the Taliban's claim on Monday that the war in Afghanistan was over after its fighters entered Kabul, accusing the United States of "irresponsibly withdrawing troops" given the "inadequacy of the Afghan government."

It also reported that President Ashraf Ghani had left the country, as the evacuation of U.S. personnel left several people dead amid panicked scenes at Kabul airport.

It said the main reason for the Taliban's victory was the failure of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, saying the Taliban had adopted the "correct political strategy," in describing the Afghan government as a puppet regime and refusing to negotiate with its officials in bilateral talks.

"During the past 20 years, the United States has poured more than U.S.$88 billion to support Afghan government forces, and yet they were defeated under the onslaught of the poorly equipped Taliban fighters," the Xinhua article said.

The report came as scores of Afghans ran alongside a U.S. military plane as it taxied on a runway at Kabul's airport, clinging to the side in an apparent attempt to flee the Taliban-controlled capital. Some later fell, presumed dead.

Xinhua also shared the footage, which was published by Afghanistan's largest private broadcaster, Tolo news.

Meanwhile, at least five people were killed amid chaotic scenes including at least one stampede at the airport, with U.S. soldiers firing "warning shots" to stop people from boarding flights intended for U.S. personnel, Reuters reported.

Videos and photos posted on social media showed hundreds of civilians invading the airport's runway, jostling to climb stairs onto overhead gangways and sitting on the top of passenger jets in the hope of getting a flight out, the agency said.

Chinese troops unlikely

China's Global Times newspaper, a nationalistic tabloid with close ties to ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece the People's Daily, said China was unlikely to send in its own troops, as some have speculated.

"The most China can do is ... contribute to post-war reconstruction and development, pushing forward projects under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) when safety and stability are restored in the war-torn country," the paper said.

It said any humanitarian problems in the wake of the U.S. pullout should be resolved by Washington, not Beijing.

"Many netizens worldwide compared the current situation with the US evacuation from Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam in 1975, to mock the U.S. failure and pointless military actions in the developing world," the article said.

It quoted a Chinese internet user as saying in an online comment: "Those U.S. soldiers died for nothing, the Taliban is back, and the only change is that more people have died and U.S. taxpayers have wasted their money to feed the US military-industrial tycoons."

Both Xinhua and the Global Times -- both of which are whitelisted publications under the CCP's hierarchy of approved news copy and commentary -- quoted Zhu Yongbiao, director of the center of Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University.

Zhu said the Taliban hadn't yet sparked a major humanitarian crisis and seemed "not too bad so far."

"There are some accusations against the Taliban, but we didn't see hard evidence yet," Zhu was quoted as saying.

"The current situation is a mess for the U.S., and will impact countries in the region, and then the impact will come to us [China]," the Global Times quoted Zhu as saying. "If the Taliban gains immediate control of the whole country and brings about stability, this would not be bad news."

High-level contacts

The Global Times said Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had met with a Taliban delegation in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on July 28, 2021.

The head of the Taliban's political commission Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar told Wang that Taliban "will never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China."

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China hopes the Taliban can actually implement its promise of a smooth transition of power.

"China has maintained contact and communication with the Taliban and played a constructive role in promoting the political settlement of the Afghan issue," Hua said on Monday, citing the July 28 meeting in Tianjin.

"The Taliban has said on multiple occasions that they hope to build sound relations with China, that they look forward to China's participation in Afghanistan's reconstruction and development, and that they will never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China," Hua said. "We welcome those statements."

"The Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan and the diplomatic staff there are remaining at their posts and carrying out their duties," she said. "Most Chinese citizens have safely returned to China with the help of the embassy."

"We hope the Afghan people can keep the flames of war at bay, and rebuild their homeland," Hua said.

Beneficial to China

Beijing-based democracy activist Zha Jianguo says China stands to benefit from the Taliban's victory.

"This is definitely beneficial to China," Zha said. "The border with Afghanistan is fairly short and easy to secure, and China has a strong military presence in [the western region of] Xinjiang."

A Chinese academic specializing in international relations, who requested anonymity, said the CCP was unlikely to get too involved, however.

"It is a possibility open to China following the U.S. withdrawal to try to use the China model [of authoritarian rule] to ensure peace in Afghanistan," the academic said. "But personally, I don't believe it will. I don't think China could handle that."

The international community called on the Taliban to allow any Afghans to leave who wanted to.

"Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so; roads, airports, and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained," the statement signed by the U.S., E.U., U.K., and dozens of other countries said.

"Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility—and accountability—for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order," the statement, carried on the U.S. State Department's official website, said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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