Building bridges

At the SCO, Pakistan expressed concern about the current situation in Afghanistan

Building bridges


ollowing the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Goa, a popular tourist destination in India, the meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and the interim government of the Afghan Taliban was of great significance.

Following the withdrawal of coalition forces led by the United States in August 2021 and the subsequent departure of President Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan Taliban have taken over Kabul. They are currently engaged in the task of restoring peace and stability in the country. However, their efforts have been hindered among other things by the challenging economic situation brought about by international sanctions. In this context, China’s significance in the region has been growing.

Meanwhile, Western nations, including the United States, face an immediate threat in Europe in the form of Ukraine war. Having concluded successful diplomatic initiatives between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China is assuming a role in resolution of conflicts in both Central Asia and South Asia. Afghanistan has once again become a focal point for regional powers. While attending the conference in Goa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Moscow’s expectation for the Taliban leadership to fulfil their promises and establish an inclusive government.

“The assurances that were given with regard to human rights, security in the territory of Afghanistan, the eradication of terrorist threats and drug trafficking, we are keeping an eye on those,” Lavrov said.

Pakistan also expressed concerns about the current situation in the region. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari emphasised that the situation in Afghanistan not only posed new challenges but also offered potential opportunities.

“After being the playground for great powers time and time again, we owe it to the people of Afghanistan to not repeat the past mistakes,” he said.

After attending the SCO conference in India, the foreign minister flew back to Islamabad to participate in the trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting with his Chinese and Afghan counterparts.

The tripartite meeting addressed three significant issues. The international community continues to exert pressure on the Afghan Taliban to lift the ban on women’s education. Another crucial demand is to ensure representation of other factions in the formation of the government. In response, the Afghan Taliban have insisted on the removal of economic sanctions and the recognition of their government at all forums. These matters were also deliberated upon in the recent meeting. Despite travel restrictions, the interim foreign minister of Afghanistan managed to reach Islamabad and participate in these meetings.

Regarding the issue of women’s education, Afghan Taliban officials claim to be working on devising a system for women’s education, but progress has been frustratingly slow. While they do not outright deny the necessity of women’s education, this raises concerns about their commitment to equality and human rights. Observers who have been closely monitoring the Afghan Taliban believe that the persistent ban on women’s education is driven primarily by hard-line elements within the Taliban movement who have consistently opposed empowering women. The current effort aims at placating international concerns in this regard.

Pakistan has persistently demanded that the Afghan Taliban help it combat the Pakistani Taliban, who have sought refuge in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban have expressed a desire for resolution of these issues through negotiations.

The path to power-sharing is riddled with significant obstacles, primarily due to the Talibans’ unwillingness to include their opponents in the government. Certain factions within the Taliban adamantly refuse to engage with those who have opposing views or have previously held positions of power. They argue that power was forcibly taken from them following the events of September 11 and that they only regained control through their determined resistance against foreign forces and the previous government. Despite the immense losses, they stubbornly reject the idea of collaborating with the people seen to have been complicit with the forces they fought in the War on Terror. This uncompromising stance raises serious concerns about the Taliban’s commitment to inclusivity, reconciliation and genuine power-sharing.

Pakistan has persistently demanded that the Afghan Taliban help it in combating the Pakistani Taliban, who have sought refuge in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have expressed a desire to resolve these issues through negotiation.

China has emphatically expressed the need to take every possible measure to ensure lasting peace and stability in the region. Its primary goal is to foster business and trade in the area while establishing robust connections between Central Asia and South Asia. China’s apparent aim is the completion of the One Belt One Road project. Through diplomatic efforts, China remains actively involved in making this monumental project a success. Unlike the United States and Western nations, China has found engaging with the Afghan Taliban easy.

The joint declaration issued following this meeting outlines the key issues to be addressed and charts the future course of action for these three countries.

The three parties emphasised the importance of preventing any individuals, groups, or organisations, including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), from utilising their territories to pose threats or conduct terrorist activities that could harm regional security and interests. It was emphasised that all sides shall refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and to actively contribute to promoting peace, stability and reconstruction within the country.

Recognising the significance of generating economic activity in Afghanistan, the ministers underscored the need to explore practical approaches for revitalising the Afghan economy. In this regard, the ministers expressed their willingness to consider providing more support for the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and exploring trilateral investment opportunities aimed at fostering industrialisation and job creation.

The three parties emphasised the critical significance of providing continuous and immediate humanitarian assistance to the Afghan population. This includes addressing funding gaps for humanitarian operations. The ministers underlined that humanitarian aid must be kept distinct from any political considerations, emphasising the need to prioritise the well-being of the Afghan people above all else.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer

Building bridges