China-hosted Grouping Backs Afghanistan, Urges Taliban to Protect Rights of Afghans

Foreign ministers from Afghanistan’s neighbors met in China on Thursday to reaffirm support for the war-torn country and stress how important it is for Taliban rulers to protect rights of all Afghans, including women’s rights to an education.

Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and host China attended the meeting in the central Chinese city of Tunxi. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were also among the participants.

A post-meeting statement noted “the importance of taking necessary, continuing steps in Afghanistan on ensuring women’s rights and children’s education, among others … safeguard the fundamental rights of all Afghans, including ethnic groups, women and children.”

It also noted Taliban commitments and pledges made to the global community that Afghan soil would not pose “any threats to the neighboring countries” nor will it give space to terrorist groups.

China has not yet recognized the Taliban government nor has the world at large. 

Analysts say the regional conference and multilateral sideline huddles underscore ramped up Chinese diplomatic engagement with de facto Afghan authorities to shore up bilateral relations 20 years after the United States and NATO-led troops withdrew from Afghanistan last August.

Chinese and other regional officials fear that continued instability in the troubled neighboring country could encourage terrorist groups to use Afghan soil for cross-border attacks.

Earlier, in a message to the regional huddle, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed support for Afghanistan, calling for coordinated efforts to build a “brighter future” and promote “the steady transition” there.

“China always respects Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and has committed to supporting its pursuit of peace, stability and development,” Xi said.

“The country has come to a critical point of transition from chaos to order,” he said in the statement that Chinese Embassy officials in Islamabad shared with reporters.

Xi stressed that “a peaceful, stable, developing and prosperous Afghanistan” is what all Afghans aspire to. “It is also in the common interests of regional countries and the international community.”

However, the Chinese leader made no mention of human rights abuses the Taliban have allegedly committed against Afghans since the Islamist group seized power and established an interim government in Kabul seven months ago.

The China-hosted talks come just days after the male-only hardline Taliban leadership enacted a series of edicts, raising concerns the group is reintroducing the harsh Islamist rule it employed from 1996 to 2001, when human rights abuses such as the barring of women from education and work led to the country’s international isolation.

The Taliban have banned girls and women from attending school beyond the sixth grade. Women are not allowed to board planes or taxis unless accompanied by a male relative.

Men and women must visit public parks on separate days, and the use of mobile telephones in universities is prohibited. Male government employees have been instructed to wear a beard and adhere to a Taliban-authorized traditional Afghan dress code.

The de facto Afghan authorities have blocked international media broadcasts, including VOA and the BBC’s Pashto and Dari news programming. They have also banned foreign drama series on Afghan television channels.

The controversial actions have drawn global condemnation and demands that the Taliban immediately reverse them, warning it would undermine the group’s attempts to develop ties with the international community.

The Taliban’s Muttaqi told Thursday’s meeting that the group is working to make their government more inclusive, saying they have also effectively reduced the threat of Islamic State through military actions, claiming the terrorist group “exists in the country only symbolically.”

The Taliban official added that his government is ready to address concerns of other nations seeking increased foreign cooperation with Kabul.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told the conference in China that Moscow has accredited a Taliban-appointed diplomat to engage with Kabul. Other regional countries also have accredited Taliban envoys, including Beijing, Islamabad, Turkey, Tehran, Tashkent and Turkmenistan.

Lavrov reiterated concerns about the threat of terrorism from groups such as Islamic State spilling over into Russia through Central Asian countries. 

The Russian foreign minister noted growing trade and economic ties between Afghanistan and regional countries were contributing to the potential international recognition of the Taliban administration.

“I would like to note that the first Afghan diplomat who arrived in Moscow last month and was sent by the new authorities has received accreditation at the Russian Foreign Ministry,” he said.

“The plans of the Islamic State and its supporters to destabilize Central Asian states and export instability to Russia are of particular concern,” Lavrov said.

Participants at the regional conference called for unfreezing billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves, mostly held in the United States, to enable the country to deal with humanitarian and economic upheavals. The United Nations says more than half of Afghanistan’s estimated 40 million population face acute food shortages.

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