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Reluctant Critic China Urges Afghan Taliban to Change Stance on Women’s Roles

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Reluctant Critic China Urges Afghan Taliban to Change Stance on Women’s Roles

Wang said China hopes the Taliban-appointed Afghan interim government will “take solid steps in the right direction.”

Reluctant Critic China Urges Afghan Taliban to Change Stance on Women’s Roles
Credit: Pixabay

China on Wednesday called on Afghanistan to reform its radical policies excluding women from education and public life and “adopt a more resolute attitude in combating terrorism.”

The comments from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin came on the heels of a Pakistan-hosted mini-summit of China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan that sought to promote trade and lower border tensions amid a surge of attacks inside Pakistan.

Wang said China hopes the Taliban-appointed Afghan interim government will “take solid steps in the right direction, make practical efforts to gain the understanding and trust of the international community, and create favorable conditions for Afghanistan to further develop good neighborliness with its neighbors and integrate into the international community.”

China generally refrains from commenting on the internal policies of nations with which it wishes to curry favor, or can use as leverage in its campaign to combat the dominance of global affairs by the United States and other liberal democracies.

China has also made halting efforts to extend its Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan that could see construction of railways and bridges, but is chiefly concerned with Afghanistan harboring separatists opposed to Chinese control in its northwestern region of Xinjiang.

“The international community still has a lot of concerns and expectations for the Afghan interim government, including hoping the Afghan side will make more progress in implementing moderate and prudent internal and external policies and safeguarding the rights and interests of women and children, and adopt a more resolute attitude in combating terrorism so as to produce more visible results,” Wang said at a daily briefing.

Wang praised a joint statement issued Monday at the end of the trilateral meeting as the first time the Taliban had put in writing a commitment to disallow terrorist groups to use Afghanistan as a base of operations. 

That document is “of great significance to the future development of China-Afghanistan relations and the promotion of regional counter-terrorism and security cooperation,” Wang said.

However, the February 2020 agreement between the United States and the Taliban also specifically included a pledge that the Taliban “will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” U.S. analysts widely believe the Taliban have not made sincere efforts to force al-Qaida and other aligned groups out of Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan-China-Pakistan joint statement said the three sides stressed the need to prevent any individual, group, or party “to use their territories to harm and threaten regional security and interests or conduct terrorist actions and activities.”

These include the Pakistani Taliban and a nebulous militant group claiming to represent the Uyghur ethnic group in China’s Xinjiang region, called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Several hundred, possibly thousands, of Chinese Muslims are believed to live in Pakistan’s largely ungoverned northern territories, but terrorism experts question whether the ETIM (sometimes referred to as the Turkestan Islamic Party) exists in any form other than on paper.

China also called for increased engagement with the Taliban regime, which has not been formally recognized by any foreign government. “As a traditional friendly neighbor of Afghanistan, China believes that Afghanistan should not be excluded from the international community,” Wang said. “The well-being and interests of the Afghan people deserve attention, the peace and reconstruction process of Afghanistan should be encouraged, and its sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected.”

The Taliban have been shunned by most of the international community for sweeping restrictions on political opposition and civic life imposed after they seized power in August 2021. Those measures have rolled back educational and cultural gains made during the 20-year presence of NATO and U.S. forces, despite earlier pledges by the group that it would moderate its hard-line interpretation of Islam that has made it an outlier in the Muslim world.

Most notably, girls have been banned from education beyond the sixth grade and women are banned from most jobs outside the home. Girls and women face sharp restrictions on their movements, dress, and activities.

A U.N. report on Monday also strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings, and stonings since seizing power in Afghanistan, and called on the country’s rulers to halt such practices.

At the mini-summit, the diplomats from the three nations agreed “to further deepen and expand their cooperation in the security, development and political domains based on the principles of mutual respect, equal-footed consultation and mutual benefit.”

The involvement of China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang in the talks represented a further expansion of Chinese diplomacy with Muslim countries following Beijing’s hosting of talks resulting in the resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Pakistan, Beijing is bankrolling the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC — a sprawling package that includes road works, crop production, and power plant construction.

The package is considered a lifeline for impoverished Pakistan, which is currently facing one of its worst economic crises amid stalled talks on a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

During his visit, Qin met with President Arif Alvi, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan’s powerful army chief, General Asim Munir. Qin was assured that Pakistan will boost security for Chinese nationals working in the country, a major concern since a suicide bomber killed nine Chinese and four Pakistanis in an attack in Pakistan’s volatile northwest in 2021.