Thursday, December 2, 2021

US Dismisses Taliban Claims About Chinese Investment in Afghanistan

US officials and independent analysts on Friday reacted skeptically to the Taliban’s claim that China is ready to invest billions of dollars in Afghanistan.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki indicated that the United States is more concerned with helping the Afghan people as the country’s economy is collapsing than in combating any future spread of Chinese influence.

“Our focus, along with the vast majority of the international community, is on getting humanitarian aid and getting it to the right people in Afghanistan to make sure they have what they need,” he said in response to a VOA question.

In an interview in Kabul earlier this week, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Afghanistan’s new rulers have pledged to ensure the safety of Chinese workers and assets in exchange for billions of dollars of Chinese investment.

“They are interested in investing in certain areas in Afghanistan and would like to negotiate the details,” Mujahid told VOA.

Mujahid said, “One of the projects is Mes Aynak (site of one of Afghanistan’s largest copper mines and ancient Buddhist ruins), which is one of the important areas where they want to invest billions of dollars, and Afghanistan needs it too.”

‘wishful thinking’

China has invested in neighboring countries including Pakistan and Iran and has invited Kabul to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.

But the idea that China is now ready to invest in Afghanistan is “wishful thinking,” said Hussein Haqqani, director of South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank focused on US policy. Billions of dollars in investments mean hundreds of millions of dollars are expected in return annually, and right now the Afghan economy simply doesn’t present that opportunity.

Haqqani noted that China has so far given only $31 million in humanitarian aid to the Taliban.

“It’s certainly not a sign of someone who is ready to invest billions,” he said.

Large-scale investment in Afghanistan is also unlikely before the Taliban gets international recognition. No country has recognized the Islamic Emirate – the name announced by the group – as the official government of Afghanistan, which includes China and Russia, another US rival.

“We know there should be cooperation with them, but there is no room for haste,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told the leaders of the former Soviet republics at the Commonwealth of Independent States summit on Friday.

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unstable and dangerous

While the Taliban have promised to restore peace, Beijing and other potential investors will need to see greater political stability and a secure security environment.

“China will certainly be the first to knock on the door, but no country is knocking on the door right now,” said Errol Yabok, director of the Project on Fragility and Mobility at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They require a certain level of consistency.”

Certainly, the security situation remains volatile, and many fear that other terrorist groups are strengthening under the Taliban regime.

On Friday, suicide bombers attacked a Shia mosque in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, killing dozens during Friday prayers. Responsibility was claimed by Islamic State Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K, the same group that killed at least 45 people last week in a suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in northern Kunduz province And dozens were injured.

moving on

In addition to providing humanitarian aid and evacuating Americans and Afghan allies, the Biden administration has indicated it is moving forward. Officials have repeatedly said that the military component of the US presence in Afghanistan is over.

“The US is no longer in the game in Afghanistan,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.

He said the US is focusing more on great power rivalries elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. And so far, America’s rivals have not moved to fill the gap left by the US in Afghanistan.

“China and Russia want to be very cautious, at least for the near term and see and see what happens in Afghanistan,” Kugelman said.

Beyond security reasons, neither the Communist Party of China nor the Kremlin is a natural partner for the Taliban, especially as the group appears unwilling to become more liberal or inclusive to gain more international legitimacy.

Haqqani, however, warned that the political and security math would change if Afghanistan once again became a haven for international jihadists.

“At that time, everyone, including the United States, will recalculate,” he predicted.

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