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China coaxes Taliban with 'highway network' in exchange for peace

The Chinese have also allegedly promised to invest in energy projects in Afghanistan [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 September, 2020

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Chinese officials have allegedly continued to meet Taliban representatives as the Trump administration began withdrawing troops.

Chinese diplomats have reportedly offered to build a road network for the Taliban if the militant group can "guarantee peace" following the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan.

Tribal leaders in Pakistan with close ties to the militants told The Financial Times that "sizeable investments in energy and infrastructure projects" in Afghanistan were on the agenda during trilateral talks in the Chinese capital.

Initially, Chinese officials promised to "invest in roads" if the Taliban bought "peace [to Afghanistan]", a tribal leader told FT, with a view to launching "energy projects like generating electricity and then transporting oil and gas from central Asia [through Afghanistan]."

China's planned roads will be motorways linking Afghanistan’s main cities, another tribal leader told FT.

"Once such a network is built with six-land highways, the Chinese have said local commerce and trade will flourish," they said.

Chinese officials have continued to meet Taliban representatives while the Trump administration began withdrawing troops following a peace deal signed with the group in February, according to an official in the Pakistan foreign ministry.

The withdrawal, which had a 14-month completion timeframe, has suffered major setbacks due to a spike in deadly Taliban attacks on Afghan security targets and civilians.

Intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the government have also been stymied over the attacks and a delayed prisoner exchange.

As for China, one analyst told FT that the global power was "thinking ahead on Afghanistan and laying the ground for the future,"

"The Chinese are taking increase interest in countries close to their border, said James Dorsey, a Singapore-based security expert.

Following talks between China, Pakistan and Afghanistan in July, officials from the countries warned of the potential for a “terrorist resurgence” in the event that US troops were not pulled out "responsibly" from Afghanistan.

On Wednesday evening, Washington formally announced that its US contingent in the country would be reduced from 8,600 to 4,500 by late October.

Read also: US confirms planned troop withdrawal from Iraq

Pakistan, whose security agencies enjoy close ties with the Taliban through decades-long arms and financial support to guarantee its regional supremacy, have been critical in helping the group forge a peace deal with the US.

One former Islamabad intelligence official told FT said that China's involvement also nudged the movement towards peace.

"The Chinese have repeatedly pressed the Taliban to see the benefits of an economically revitalised Afghanistan. That's a message no one else is delivering as powerfully as the Chinese right now," they said.

"The Taliban recognise China for not only having the financial means but also the motive to develop Afghanistan." they added.

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