(CNSNews.com) – Deeper Chinese involvement in Afghanistan post the U.S.-troop withdrawal could be “a positive thing,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week, underscoring again his department’s contention that neighboring countries like China, Pakistan, and Iran have shared interests with the U.S. in seeing a stable Afghanistan.
On the same day as China’s foreign minister met with a senior Taliban delegation on Wednesday, an Indian journalist asked Blinken during a visit to New Delhi for a reaction – “because the prevailing notion here seems to be as the U.S. withdraws, China steps into that vacuum.”
“No one, whether it’s the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Central Asian countries – no one has an interest in Afghanistan falling into an enduring civil war,” Blinken replied.
“No one has an interest in a military takeover of the country by the Taliban, the restoration of an Islamic emirate. Everyone has an interest in a peaceful resolution of the conflict and some kind of government that emerges that’s truly representative and inclusive.”
“And so if China is acting on those interests, if other countries are acting on those interests, that’s a positive thing.”
China has not always seen eye-to-eye with the Taliban, which it has accused of having links to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uyghur separatist group.
But after Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the Taliban delegation, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian quoted him as saying, “the Afghan Taliban is an important military and political force in Afghanistan and is expected to play an important role in the country’s peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process.”
Zhao also expressed China’s hope that the Taliban “will make a clean break with all terrorist organizations, including the ETIM.”
(ETIM was on the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List, which names groups barred from entering the U.S., from 2004 until removed by the Trump administration late last year.)
Zhao also slammed U.S. policy in Afghanistan this week, calling the U.S. “the culprit that started the Afghan issue” and saying its announcement of a full troop withdrawal “is the root cause of the acute deterioration of the security situation there.”
Earlier this month, State Department spokesman Ned Price also voiced confidence about a positive role for China role in Afghanistan, characterizing it as an issue on which U.S. and Chinese interests align.
“We look to China, as we do other regional countries, to play a role that is constructive and that helps bring about that outcome that is in our collective interests,” he told a briefing on July 14.
“China being, of course, an important country in the region has the potential to be a constructive force when it comes to the cause of an Afghanistan that is more secure, that is more stable, that ultimately is peaceful,” Price said. “This has the potential to be one of those areas because it is an area where our interests do align.”
China is not the only neighboring country which the State Department is expressing optimism will help stabilize Afghanistan.
In another media interview during his India visit, Blinken was asked about Pakistan.
“Pakistan continues to support the Taliban,” the Times of India reporter said. “And are we seeing the same effect in Afghanistan today that we saw for the last 20 years?”
“Pakistan has a vital role to play in using its influence with the Taliban to do whatever it can to make sure that the Taliban does not seek to take the country by force,” Blinken replied. “And it does have influence, and it does have a role to play, and we hope that it plays it.”
Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence agency has both openly and clandestinely collaborated with the Taliban (and other terrorists in Afghanistan) for decades. Islamabad’s record in this area prompted the Trump administration to withhold, and later redirect, $300 million in military aid in 2018.
During a joint press briefing with Blinken in Delhi, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was asked how concerned he was about regional security once the U.S. troops had left, and if he believed the U.S. government “has done enough to pressure Pakistan over its support for the Taliban.”
Jaishankar in his reponse did not mention Pakistan by name, but alluded to India’s longtime foe.
He said “most of the neighbors of Afghanistan agree” that negotiations rather than an outcome “decided by force on the battlefield” was the way to go, with the goal being peace and a political settlement.
“Now, I grant you not everybody who agrees does what they say they would do,” Jaishankar said, noting “the exception” referred to by the reporter who had asked the question.
“But I think that is the reality which is not new. That is the reality over the last 20 years.”
Early this month a Taliban delegation held talks in Tehran with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif. Asked about an Iranian role in Afghanistan, State Department spokesman Price said “the jury is still out” on whether Iran was playing “a constructive role.”
Iran’s links with the Taliban, and with the Taliban’s al-Qaeda allies, also date back decades.