Group’s spokesman says Beijing is ‘ready to invest in and reconstruct’ Afghanistan
China is the Taliban’s “principal partner” in the international community, the Islamist group has said in its strongest signal yet of diplomatic priorities.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Thursday claimed Beijing was “ready to invest in and reconstruct” Afghanistan
as he set out hopes that China would provide a gateway into global markets.
His remarks offer the clearest indication to date of the diplomatic direction in which the Taliban is turning, as well as how it intends to solve the economic crisis crippling the country.
Mr Mujahid said the Chinese would revive Afghan copper mining and production as he expressed admiration for the One Belt One Road project under which China extends significant loans to other countries to invest in infrastructure.
Western critics have framed the initiative as a debt trap that helps Beijing extend geopolitical influence – a charge rejected by Chinese leaders.
The senior Taliban official’s remarks came after Dominic Raab
, the Foreign Secretary, declared earlier in the day that Britain “will not be recognising the Taliban any time in the foreseeable future”.
Mr Raab acknowledged that there was “important scope for engagement and dialogue”, but warned that acceptance of the new Afghan regime as a legitimate government was some way off.
Britain and other western nations view formal recognition as a diplomatic lever with which to apply pressure on the Taliban to allow at-risk Afghans to leave the country, to respect human rights, and to allow girls to go to school.
A more calculating realpolitik has characterised Beijing’s approach to the new Afghan administration. A Taliban delegation visited China in July, meeting Wang Yi, the foreign minister, in Tianjin for talks.
China has also been one of the few countries not to have evacuated staff from its Kabul embassy in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
Mr Mujahid told Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Thursday: “China is our principal partner and for us represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity because it’s ready to invest in and reconstruct our country. We hold in high regard the One Belt One Road project that will serve to revive the ancient Silk Road.
“Beyond that, we have rich copper mines which thanks to the Chinese can be brought back into production and modernised. China represents our passport towards the markets of the whole world.”
on Thursday night said Britain needed to “level with” the Taliban to make them understand that “if they want engagement with the West, with us, our friends – and I know that they do – then the first priority for us is safe passage for those who want to leave”.
Earlier, Mr Raab indicated that Kabul airport could reopen “in the near future”, raising hopes among diplomats that the evacuation of vulnerable Afghans to Britain could resume within days.
Amid a week of bitter recriminations between the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence over Britain’s handling of Afghan crisis, Mr Raab hit back at Ben Wallace, after the Defence Secretary suggested he knew the “game was up” in Afghanistan
as early as July.
The Foreign Secretary told broadcasters: “Ben and I were taking the same assessment throughout until very late. The central assessment had been that Kabul wouldn't fall until after the end of August.”
Ministers on Thursday night announced that shelters and sanitation facilities for those who have fled Afghanistan
will be provided as part of a £30 million UK aid package. The money comes from a £286 million pot of development funding committed to Afghanistan
by Mr Johnson this year.
Mr Raab said the “life-saving” supplies are intended to help those Afghans who have “left everything behind” to reach neighbouring countries.