A big breakthrough in Afghan Taliban and China relations

A big breakthrough in Afghan Taliban and China relations

KABUL: The Taliban is set to participate in China's Belt and Road Forum next week, a spokesperson confirmed on Saturday.

This development underscores Beijing's increasing official ties with the Taliban administration, even though it hasn't received formal recognition from any government. While Taliban officials and ministers have attended regional meetings related to Afghanistan, the Belt and Road Forum is one of the highest-profile multilateral summits they have been invited to join.

The forum, which will take place in Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday, commemorates the 10th anniversary of President Xi Jinping's ambitious global infrastructure and energy initiative, aimed at reviving the ancient Silk Road to boost global trade.

Haji Nooruddin Azizi, the Taliban's acting minister for commerce and industry, will travel to Beijing in the coming days and is expected to attend the forum. He also plans to invite substantial investors to consider opportunities in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, despite its economic challenges, possesses valuable untapped mineral resources, such as copper, gold, and lithium, estimated to be worth between $1 trillion and $3 trillion back in 2010.

However, the current value of these resources remains uncertain. China has been in discussions with the Taliban regarding the development of a substantial copper mine in eastern Afghanistan, a project initiated under the previous foreign-backed government.

Azizi will also engage in discussions in Beijing about a proposed road construction project through the Wakhan corridor, a narrow and mountainous region in northern Afghanistan. This road would provide direct access to China, further connecting Afghanistan to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

In May, officials from China, the Taliban, and neighboring Pakistan expressed their desire to include Afghanistan in the Belt and Road Initiative, and there were discussions about extending the flagship China Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan.

It's worth noting that since the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan two years ago, no government has formally recognized them. Various factors, including restrictions on women's participation in public life and the suspension of many female NGO staff from their work, have created obstacles to international recognition, especially from Western nations.

China, however, has strengthened its engagement with the Taliban. It was the first country to appoint an ambassador to Kabul following the Taliban's rise to power and has invested in mining projects in Afghanistan.

Beijing's ambassador presented credentials to the Taliban's acting prime minister last month, while other countries have either retained previous ambassadors or appointed heads of mission in a charge d'affaires capacity that doesn't involve the formal presentation of credentials to the government.