First Taliban moves fail to convince Afghan neighbors of new regime

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Taliban soldiers are seen on a street in Herat, Afghanistan, September 10, 2021. Photo: WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

The Taliban’s record in recent weeks in keeping their promises to respect human and women’s rights and to defend press freedom has been mixed at best. Afghanistan’s neighbors are not holding their breath, although some are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the new leadership of the central Asian country.

A litmus test of the Taliban’s willingness to compromise could come sooner rather than later.

It is probably only a matter of time before China knocks on the door of the new acting Afghan interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, demanding the extradition of Uyghur fighters. The Chinese demand would be a challenge not only because of the Taliban’s constant rejection, at whatever cost, of expulsion requests from the militants who aided them in their battles. The Taliban already made it known two decades ago when they accepted the risk of an American invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11 by refusing for the umpteenth time to hand over the leader of al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden. There is little in Taliban 2.0 that suggests this has changed.

According to Haneef Atamar, foreign minister in the US-backed Afghan government under former President Ashraf Ghani, Uyghurs, including veterans in Syria, have contributed significantly to the most recent successes. Taliban on the battlefield in northern Afghanistan. A request for the extradition of Uyghurs to China would also be difficult because Mr. Haqqani himself, the Afghan internal security official, is a wanted man with a bounty of US $ 5 million on his head. In addition, the United Nations sanctioned Mr. Haqqani’s prime minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, and several other members of the interim government.

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“It is difficult to see a wanted man hand over someone who is wanted for similar reasons,” a Western diplomat said.

In addition, honoring extradition requests could threaten unity in the Taliban ranks. “The actions of the Taliban against foreign jihadist groups to appease neighboring countries would be particularly controversial, as there is a fairly widespread sense of solidarity and camaraderie with those who have fought alongside the Taliban for so long,” said Antonio Giustozzi, Afghanistan specialist.

The question is whether China would accept what appears to be a tacit international consensus that it might be better not to seek extradition if the Taliban keep their word and prevent militants from hitting targets beyond it. ‘Afghanistan. Counterterrorism experts and diplomats argue that if forced, the Taliban would quietly let foreign militants leave their country rather than hand them over. This would make it difficult to follow up on these people.

In recent years, China has successfully demanded the extradition of its Turkish Muslim citizens from countries like Egypt, Malaysia and Thailand, and has pressured many others to do so even if they were not suspected of being foreign fighters and / or members of Turkestan Islam. Party (TIP). The United Nations Security Council has designated TIP’s predecessor, the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist organization.

There is little reason to assume that China would make Afghanistan, a safe haven for Uyghur fighters from Syria, the exception. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made this clear when he hinted at possible extradition requests during talks in July in China with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban and first vice-president. Prime Minister of the new government. Mr. Wang demanded that the Taliban sever relations with all militant groups and take resolute action against the TIP. Moreover, the Taliban may have destroyed any chance of Chinese dependence on them by demonstrating early on that they and the international community can speak different languages ​​even if they use the same words.

The Taliban have made it clear that their definition of inclusiveness, a term on which the group and the international community, including China, Russia and India, seem to agree, is very different. The Taliban formed an overwhelming, all-male, ethnic government that was anything but inclusive in the universally accepted sense of the word. Likewise, Mr. Haqqani and his colleagues, including Qari Fasihuddin Badakhshani, the new Taliban chief of staff of the Afghan army, a Tajik and one of only three non-Pashtuns in the new government structure of 33 members would have close ties to Uyghur, Pakistani and other activists. As a result, they are likely to be just as reluctant to accept China-backed Pakistani demands for the transfer of members of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), more commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban.

The TTP is a coalition of Pashtun Islamist groups closely linked to the Afghan Taliban that joined forces last year with several other Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a fiercely anti-Shiite Sunni Muslim supremacist organization. The Hazara Shiites, who make up 20 percent of the Afghan population, were not included in the new Afghan government, although the Taliban last month insisted on protecting Shiite religious celebrations. Nonetheless, the Taliban’s notion of inclusiveness has already clouded relations with Iran and may persuade the Islamic republic to secretly support resistance to the group’s regime.

China fears fallout from the Taliban’s sweep across Afghanistan will affect China beyond Afghan borders, perhaps no more than in Pakistan, one of the People’s Republic’s main investments in the area. Belt and Road (BRI).

The July assassination of nine Chinese nationals in an attack on a bus carrying Chinese workers to a dam construction site in the mountains of northern Pakistan has raised the specter of Afghan-based jihadist religious activists targeting the China. So far, it has been mainly Baloch nationalists who have targeted the Chinese in Pakistan. The attack came amid fears that the Taliban’s victory would strengthen ultra-conservative religious sentiment in Pakistan, where many celebrated the group’s success in hopes it would increase the chances of a religious regime. austere in the world’s second most populous Muslim-majority state.

“Our jihadists will be emboldened. They will say that ‘if America can be beaten, what is the Pakistani army to stand in our way?’ A senior Pakistani official said.

Indicating concern in Beijing, China has delayed the signing of an industrial cooperation framework agreement that would have accelerated the implementation of projects that are part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the crown jewel of transport, telecommunications and energy of the People’s Republic. BIS.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid recently maintained the ambiguity of the Taliban’s relationship with the TTP.

“The issue of the TTP is one that Pakistan will have to deal with, not Afghanistan. It is up to Pakistan, and Pakistani Islamic scholars and religious figures, not the Taliban, to decide on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their war and to formulate a strategy in response, ”Mujahid said at the meeting. ‘an interview with a Pakistani television show. The spokesperson stopped before saying that the Taliban would comply with a decision by academics.

Afghan sources suggest the Taliban advised the TTP to restrict their fighting on Pakistani soil and offered to negotiate with the Pakistani government for an amnesty and the return of Pakistani militants to the South Asian nation. Uncertainty over where the Taliban will go in Afghanistan has also cast a shadow over Indian hopes that the Iranian port of Chabahar would facilitate trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia and offset the Pakistani port of Gwadar, backed by China. .

Eager to maintain influence in his relations with Pakistan as well as with China, Taliban official Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai chose his words carefully, stressing that the economy should be at the center of Afghan-Indian relations. “We attach due importance to our political, economic and trade ties with India and we want these ties to continue. We look forward to working with India in this regard, ”said Stanekzai.

Mr. Stanekzai’s business-oriented approach, coupled with pressure on the Taliban to police militants on Afghan soil, some of whom have attacked India in the past, dovetails with Islamic scholars in the alma mater from Deobandi in the town of Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, highlighting the gap between themselves and their Afghan and Pakistani brethren.

Deobandi’s Indian posture created an opportunity that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has yet to seize to involve them in India’s backchannel and direct contact with the Taliban. India has invested $ 3 billion over the past 20 years to build Afghan roads, girls’ schools and clinics. Stanekzai’s comments indicate that the Taliban would like India to continue investing in the country.

The Taliban and a significant number of Pakistani ultra-conservatives root their worldview in Deobandism, an Islamic current that emerged in India in the mid-19th century to oppose British colonial rule by propagating an austere interpretation. faith. Deobandism became widespread among the Pashtuns even though the Deobandis in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India broke up after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

Arshad Madani, director of Darul Uloom Deoband, the original Deobandi madrassa established in 1886, recently welcomed the decision of India’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) to establish a training center in Deoband.

“There is nothing wrong with what we teach, and we invite ATS staff to join our classes whenever they want,” said Madani. A spokesperson for the madrassa added that “we are a religious school, but we are also Indians. To doubt our integrity every time the Taliban spread terror is shameful. “

Mr Madani’s posture should serve as an incentive for the Modi government to work with the Deobandis Indians in the hope that the Taliban will be more willing to listen to religious figures with whom they share a history.

Mr. Madani has never had contact with the Taliban and has never visited Afghanistan. “I am weak and old,” said the 80-year-old religious. “But if I had the chance, I would go to Afghanistan. “

Dr James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and senior researcher at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore. This article was first published by the China India Brief of the Center on Asia and Globalization



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