Immediately after the Taliban came into power in 2021, the USA and other Western nations suspended financial assistance for Afghanistan. For the purpose of contracting financial space for the Taliban, the Biden administration further went a step ahead by imposing banking sector sanctions and froze billions of dollars in the Afghan central bank’s foreign reserves. These sanctions pushed the Afghan economy to the brink of collapse and worsened humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan.

The nonchalant posture spawned the impression in the region that the sufferings of the people of Afghanistan were of little importance to the USA.

The US post-withdrawal policy towards Afghanistan appears to be in line with its previous mistake. Even the USA refused to share the burden of responsibility after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The former US defence secretary admitted that the USA’s past policy of abandoning Afghanistan in 1989 was a mistake.

The USA’s apathy towards Afghanistan is best explained by Barnett R. Rubin that the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989 was not the only reason for the collapse of the Najibullah government in 1992. But it was the collapse of foreign aid that ultimately made the difference.

Apprehending the future security repercussions of the US policy towards Afghanistan, Chinese officials have stepped up contacts with Afghanistan, supporting its diplomatic engagement across the world, investment in the mining sector, and infrastructure development. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the international community should engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers and ‘positively guide’ them.

For China, dealing with the Taliban, was not a luxury, but an urgent necessity to contain terrorism. China’s engagement with the Taliban should not be mistaken for support. It is premised on the ground that Afghanistan has long been a source of disturbance for the world. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that ‘maintaining security is the foundation and prerequisite of development in Afghanistan’. Even before Ashraf Ghani’s government collapsed, Beijing had close working relations with Kabul.

But since the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, Beijing has begun to engage with the new rulers because it does not want terrorism to spill over from Afghanistan into China or target its interests in the region. To the dismay of the region, the West again disassociated itself from security responsibilities emanating from Afghanistan.

China, unlike the USA, took the lead in bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table to contain Afghanistan’s potential as the breeding ground of militancy.

In this regard, Chinese efforts are not fruitless. In the 5th China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Minister Dialogue in 2023, the first time in history the Afghan Taliban made a written pledge not to allow the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other forces to conduct terrorist actions and activities. This is of great significance to the region’s future development of counter-terrorism and security cooperation.

Although China is dangling economic incentives to lure the Taliban, it does so to ensure security guarantees while seeking to ameliorate economic conditions in Afghanistan for fear that poverty may drive instability. China has conditioned the Taliban regime economic and development assistance in exchange for attention to Chinese security concerns —especially restraining any militant groups in Afghanistan from disturbing the regional peace.

In January 2023, the Taliban signed its first oil extraction deal with China. The Chinese company expected to invest $ 541 million. In line with Chinese government policy, another company planned to invest $ 10 billion in Afghanistan’s lithium reserves. In May, China firmly showed its commitment to include Afghanistan in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Taliban delegation was also part of the 10th Belt and Road Forum meeting in Beijing, which was the highest-profile multilateral forum the group has attended since 2021.

Even the international community endorsed Chinese engagement with the Afghan Taliban. Afghanistan and 34 other countries agreed to work together on the digital economy and green development on the sidelines of the 10th Belt and Road Forum.

Taliban’s diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan provided an opportunity for other nations to engage with the Islamic emirate. On 13 September 2023, China appointed Ambassador Zhao Sheng in Kabul. Subsequently, the Chinese embassy in Afghanistan urged the world to continue engaging in dialogue with the Afghan Taliban and, in return, encouraged the Taliban to contain terrorism from Afghanistan. According to Javid Qaem, the former Afghan ambassador to China, the Chinese invitation to the Afghan Taliban at the BRI forum will encourage other countries to have diplomatic engagement with Afghanistan.

The US-led Western invasion and subsequent departure from Afghanistan in August 2021 brought nothing for the region. Being the neighbour of Afghanistan, China has no option except to stop the further expansion of militancy spreading from Afghanistan into the immediate neighbourhood. China does not uphold the view of the West that violence can culminate through violence. China wants to uproot militancy through addressing its root causes which lie in its economic deprivations and diplomatic isolation.

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