Why the Taliban is Turning to China

The Taliban wants China to help negotiate a political settlement with the Afghan government.


Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 28, 2014. Credit: Reuters

After Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s landmark visit to China in October 2014 the Chinese government announced its full support for the Afghan peach process.

Beijing’s efforts include an invitation for the Taliban to visit China, which was accepted by the Taliban. According to a leading Pakistani newspaper, two senior Afghan Taliban visited China last November.

The Taliban, particularly after they closed their headquarters in Qatar, demonstrated extreme antipathy to peace talks with Kabul. This antipathy stems from an absence of a realistic peace plan from the former Afghan government under Hamid Karzai; a reluctance from neighboring countries supporting the Afghan peace process; and political uncertainty due to prolonged elections in Afghanistan.

Yet the Taliban signaled a breakthrough in efforts to start peace negotiations by visiting China and seeking Chinese support for mediation between them and the Afghan government.

Though, the outcome of the Taliban visit to China is not clear, it gives optimism to the people and government of Afghanistan that official peace talks with the Taliban may start soon. Afghans are generally optimistic for peace after the popular presidential elections and a peaceful transition of power to new the president of the country.

Yet skeptics may ask what persuaded the Taliban to entertain diplomacy?

Strong stance of the Afghan government against Taliban

Unlike President Karzai, President Ghani has adopted a strict policy in dealing with Taliban. He has given a very clear message to the Taliban. “Do not ever threaten an Afghan with violence. We will rise as one and we will face every threat the way we have taken on thousands of previous armies and conquerors,” Ghani told CBS.

“This is the moment of destiny. Work with us to transform Asia but should you threaten our existence everybody will be destroyed, not just us,” he added, smiling.

This was message not only for the Taliban but also for those who support and shelter them. President Ghani called repeatedly upon the religious clerics to denounce Taliban activities and support government, something that rarely happened under President Karzai.

In another stance, on October 9, 2015 during a visit to Afghanistan’s largest prison, Pule-Charkhi Prison, President Ghani gave a strong message to Taliban: “Those who were involved behind the killing of children, women and Afghan security forces should be punished for their crimes.”

On the other hand, Afghanistan’s First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum threatened the Taliban with a tough crack down. On a mission to the northern Juzjan province he gave a clear message to Taliban. “Living in peace is better that being killed.” Dostum also proclaimed that he has prepared a Special Force of 20,000 fighters to eliminate the Taliban from Afghanistan.

The Taliban realized that despite the drawdown of international security forces, General Dostum holds enough power the fight them.

Local uprisings against Taliban

Local villagers for the first time got the Taliban scrambling after they mounted a rebellion against the insurgents in the eastern province of Ghazni, back in 2012. A group of angry Afghan villagers in the Ander district of Ghazni province inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban and succeeded in banishing them from several of villages and many districts of Ghazni Province.

Today, the uprising against Taliban has reached to Paktia, Konar, Nuristan, Laghman, Faryab, Logar and Kandahar (the birth place of Taliban) provinces. Without any doubt such uprising could spread rapidly across the country and have the potential to gain a grip in displeased communities across Afghanistan. As local villagers, under Taliban-controlled areas, are extremely frustrated from the Taliban and their followers. Closing schools, pressuring the population, atrocities, and intimidation by the Taliban is no more tolerable by millions of Afghans who wants a change.

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Taliban certainly have a sharp memory to recall the consequence of local uprisings if they grip the entire country. Let’s take a close look at recent uprisings in Afghanistan.

  • In 1838, popular uprising against the Great Britain by the Afghan people resulted in the massacre of the entire British army of 15,000, save one.
  • Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878, the second uprising against Great Britain, though, brutally crushed in a pre-emptive move but finally resulted the complete withdrawal of British invaders.
  • In 1917, the invading forces of Great Britain for the third time got wind of another impending rebellion against their occupation which resulted the full independence of Afghanistan. Proclaimed by the King Amanullah Khan in 1918.
  • Last, but not the least, the uprising against the Soviet Union invasion started right after their invasion in 1978. The local uprising, backed by the Islamic world and United States not only resulted in the complete withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan but the independence of many central Asian countries.

Local upraising undoubtedly alarmed Taliban that, there is no more space for them in the Afghan society.

Changing Pakistan

Pakistan is the Godfather of the Taliban that not only created but sheltered and supported the group since their birth in 1996.

Pakistan, which itself is already in turmoil due to rampant corruption, incompetent governance, economic crises and political tension, can no longer support a group of people that has no foundation in the Afghan society. International pressure on Pakistan to destroy the safe heavens of terrorist and put an end to its three decade-long covert war seems to have compelled the leaders of Pakistan to rethink its strategic depth policy in Afghanistan and stop supporting the Taliban.

The Taliban, who never had international support, were dealt a harsh blow in their ongoing battle in Afghanistan after losing a close ally in Pakistan. Thus it is time for the Taliban to talk about a political settlement.

Regional changes

In the 1930s, Pakistan’s poet-philosopher Allama Mohammad Iqbal characterized Afghanistan as Qalb-e-Asya (the Heart of Asia).

In his unique style, Iqbal wrote in Persian, and I translate:

“Asia is comparable to a living body. The heart that beats inside the body is the homeland of Afghans. The destruction of Afghans would be the destruction of Asia. In their [Afghan] progress and prosperity lies the well-being of Asia.”

After eight decades the major powers in Asia must believe these prophetic lines of Alama Iqbal and support Afghanistan in reaching a sustainable peace. Although India and Turkey played a key role over the past 14 years, China is emerging from the shadows to play a significant role in bringing peace to Afghanistan. The Heart of Asia Conference concurs the wind of change in Asia.

The Taliban got wind of these impending changes in Asia and embarked on a political struggle to protect their future by indicating a willingness to talk about a political solution to the Afghan crises.

Moreover, as the US and NATO military drawdown and Afghan security forces take full responsibility of security in the country, the Taliban lost the excuse of fighting against foreign forces. They can no longer justify the war against the Afghan forces.

Now that the Taliban stands at a crossroads between choosing a peaceful life and isolation, they seek China to help negotiate a political settlement with the Afghan government.

It is a strategic opportunity for the new Afghan government to use all instruments for bringing peace in the country. It’s important for the Afghan government to pressure the Taliban by supporting the local uprising and enhancing its ties with Pakistan and other regional nations. Afghans, like other nations, have the right to live in peace, and Kabul must use all means to bring peace to this war-weary nation.

Ahmad Hasib Farhan is a graduate of Kabul University and holds a master’s degree from Japan in Public Policy and Economics. Farhan is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political and socio-economic affairs in Afghanistan. Farhan can be reached at haseebnadiri@gmail.com. Read other articles by Ahmad.