China ‘is prepared to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers as soon as Kabul falls’ in a blow to Biden’s strategy of international isolation and political pressure
- Intelligence sources say China is preparing to recognize the Taliban’s legitimacy
- Islamist militants now control two-thirds of Afghanistan after military blitz
- They are closing in on Kabul following the withdrawal of US troops
- China has close ties with Pakistan, which some say is aiding the Taliban
- Beijing seeks to expand trade and resource extraction in post-US Afghanistan
- Taliban on Friday captured Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south
- They now hold two-thirds of the country and half of the provincial capitals
China is reportedly prepared to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan if they succeed in toppling the Western-backed government in Kabul.
According to U.S. and foreign intelligence sources cited by U.S. News & World Report, Chinese Communist Party leaders are preparing to formalize their relationship with the Islamist insurgents.
It comes as the Taliban control nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan including half of the 34 provincial capitals following a relentless military blitz, with the group closing in on Kabul.
Recognition from Beijing would come as a blow to President Joe Biden’s plan to use the threat of international isolation to force the Taliban back into talks for a political settlement.
China is reportedly prepared to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan if they capture Kabul. Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen above
Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle along the roadside in Kandahar on Friday. The militants have raced across the country seizing cities and are closing in on Kabul
China has long cultivated close ties with Pakistan, which shares a long mountainous border with Afghanistan. Many Afghans believe Pakistan is tacitly aiding the Taliban by providing safe haven for training camps and medical aid to wounded fighters.
‘I can say openly to Afghans that this war, it isn’t between Taliban and the Afghan Government. It is Pakistan’s war against the Afghan nation,’ Ismail Khan, a powerful U.S.-allied warlord near Herat, told the AP this week. ‘The Taliban are their resource and are working as a servant.’
Meanwhile, Beijing may see an opportunity to make inroads with what may be the inevitable next rulers of Afghanistan, which shares a border with China but is largely untapped in China’s regional economic expansion plans.
‘Beijing has reportedly been actively engaging with Kabul on construction of the Peshawar-Kabul motorway, which would connect Pakistan to Afghanistan and make Kabul a participant in China’s massive infrastructure and investment plan, the Belt and Road Initiative,’ wrote Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst for RAND.
‘Beijing is also building a major road through the Wakhan Corridor—a slim strip of mountainous territory connecting China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang to Afghanistan—and onward to Pakistan and Central Asia, complementing its existing road network through the region,’ he noted.
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi last year. China has long cultivated close ties with Pakistan, which many believe is tacitly aiding the Taliban
‘Once completed, these new thoroughfares should enable Beijing to pursue its goals of increased trade with the region and natural resource extraction in Afghanistan,’ wrote Grossman. ‘Beijing is set to benefit significantly if the Taliban come to power again in Afghanistan.’
Last month, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview that ‘China is a friendly country and we welcome it for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan…if [the Chinese] have investments, of course we will ensure their safety.’
Beijing has already secured agreements from the Taliban not to give save haven to any Islamic extremists devoted to insurgency in China’s western Xinjiang province.
The Biden administration has repeatedly threatened the Taliban with a lack of ‘international legitimacy’ unless the group returns to the peace process to reach a political settlement.
On Friday, the Taliban seized more major cities as they raced towards full control of Afghanistan and inched closer to Kabul, with the United States and Britain deploying thousands of troops to evacuate their citizens from the capital.
In the last 24 hours, the country’s second- and third-largest cities – Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south – have fallen to the insurgents, as has the capital of the southern province of Helmand, where American, British and NATO forces fought some of the bloodiest battles of the conflict.
The blitz through the Taliban’s southern heartland means the insurgents now hold half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals and control more than two-thirds of the country.
The Western-backed government in the capital, Kabul, still holds a smattering of provinces in the center and east, as well as the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Taliban militants gather after taking control of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, Afghanistan on Friday. Taliban fighters have captured Kandahar and Helmand
Taliban fighters drive an Afghan National Army (ANA) vehicle through a street in Kandahar on Friday
The scale and speed of the onslaught has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country after toppling the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 attacks nearly 20 years ago.
Security forces have capitulated on fronts, with individual soldiers, units and even whole divisions surrendering — handing the insurgents even more vehicles and military hardware to fuel their lightning advance.
While Kabul is not directly under threat yet, the resurgent Taliban were battling government forces in Logar province, some 50 miles from the capital.
The U.S. military has estimated that Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that the Taliban could overrun the rest of the country within a few months. They have already taken over much of the north and west of the country.
In the south, insurgents swept through three provincial capitals on Friday.
Attaullah Afghan, the head of the provincial council in Helmand, said the Taliban captured Lashkar Gah following weeks of heavy fighting and raised their white flag over governmental buildings. He said that three army bases outside of the city remain under government control.
In Tirin Kot, the capital of the southern Uruzgan province, Taliban fighters paraded through a main square, driving a Humvee and a pickup seized from Afghan forces. Local officials confirmed that the Taliban also captured the capitals of Zabul province in the south and Ghor in the west.
Taliban militants gather around a provincial government’s office after taking control of Herat, Afghanistan on Friday. The fall of Kandahar came hours after the Taliban captured Herat
With security rapidly deteriorating, the United States planned to send in 3,000 troops to help evacuate some personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Britain and Canada are also sending forces to aid their evacuations. Denmark said it will temporarily close its embassy, while Germany is reducing its embassy staff to the ‘absolute minimum.’
The United Nations chief urged the Taliban to immediately halt its offensive and negotiate ‘in good faith’ to avert a prolonged civil war.
In his first and strongest appeal to the Islamic militant group, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was ‘deeply disturbed by early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women and journalists.’
He said: ‘It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them.’
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban will return the country to the sort of brutal, repressive rule it imposed when it was last in power at the turn of the millennium.
At that time, the group all but eliminated women´s rights and conducted public executions as it imposed an unsparing version of Islamic law. An early sign of such tactics came in Herat, where insurgents paraded two alleged looters through the streets on Friday with black makeup smeared on their faces.
Kabul police secure areas in the central part of the city on Friday. Tensions are high as the Taliban advance on the capital city after taking Herat and the country’s second largest city
There are also concerns that the fighting could plunge the country into civil war, which is what happened after the Soviets withdrew in 1989.
‘We are worried. There is fighting everywhere in Afghanistan. The provinces are falling day by day,’ said Ahmad Sakhi, a resident of Kabul. ‘The government should do something. The people are facing lots of problems.’
The U.N. refugee agency said nearly 250,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes since the end of May, and 80 percent of those displaced are women and children.
In all, the agency said, some 400,000 civilians have been displaced since the beginning of the year, joining millions who have fled previous rounds of fighting in recent decades.
Peace talks in Qatar between the Taliban and the government remain stalled, though diplomats are still meeting, as the U.S., European and Asian nations warned that battlefield gains would not lead to political recognition.
‘We demand an immediate end to attacks against cities, urge a political settlement, and warn that a government imposed by force will be a pariah state,’ said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to the talks.
But the Taliban advance continued.
Displaced Afghan women and children from Kunduz pray at a mosque that is sheltering them on Friday in Kabul, Afghanistan. Tensions are high as the Taliban advance on the capital city
Hasibullah Stanikzai, the head of the Logar provincial council, said fighting was still underway inside Puli-e Alim, with government forces holding the police headquarters and other security facilities.
He spoke by phone from his office, and gunfire could be heard in the background. The Taliban, however, said they had captured the police headquarters and a nearby prison.
The onslaught represents a stunning collapse of Afghan forces after the United States spent nearly two decades and $830 billion trying to establish a functioning state. U.S. forces toppled the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which al-Qaida planned and executed while being sheltered by the Taliban government.
With only weeks remaining before the U.S. plans to withdraw its last troops, the fighters now advancing across the country ride on American-made Humvees and carry M-16s pilfered from Afghan forces.
Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Afghan army has rotted from within due to corruption and mismanagement, leaving troops in the field poorly equipped and with little motivation to fight. The Taliban, meanwhile, have spent a decade taking control of large swaths of the countryside.
That allowed them to rapidly seize key infrastructure and urban areas once President Joe Biden announced the timeline for the U.S. withdrawal, saying he was determined to end America’s longest war.
‘Whatever forces are left or remaining that are in the Kabul area and the provinces around them, they´re going to be used for the defense of Kabul,’ Roggio said. ‘Unless something dramatically changes, and I don´t see how that´s possible, these provinces (that have fallen) will remain under Taliban control.’
Taliban militants are seen inside the Kandahar city, southern Afghanistan, Friday. Taliban militants on Friday claimed to have taken control over key southern Afghan cities
A day earlier, in Herat, Taliban fighters rushed past the Great Mosque in the historic city – a structure that dates to 500 BC and was once a spoil of Alexander the Great – and seized government buildings. Herat had been under militant attack for two weeks.
In Kandahar, insurgents seized the governor´s office and other buildings, witnesses said, adding that the governor and other officials fled. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the defeat has yet to be acknowledged by the government, which has not commented on the latest advances.
The Taliban had earlier attacked a prison in Kandahar and freed inmates inside, officials said.
On Thursday, Nasima Niazi, a lawmaker from Helmand, said civilians likely had been wounded and killed in airstrikes. U.S. Central Command has acknowledged carrying out several strikes in recent days, without providing details or commenting on the concerns over civilian casualties.
Meanwhile in neighboring Pakistan, the country’s national security adviser urged Afghan leaders to seek a politically negotiated settlement with the Taliban to avoid further violence.
Moeed Yusuf made the appeal Friday while speaking to reporters in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He said the fall of city after city in Afghanistan underscored the need to expedite the peace process.
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