Taliban to Formally Join China’s Belt and Road Initiative

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

Haji Nooruddin Azizi, the “acting” commerce minister for the Taliban regime, announced on Thursday that the terrorist organization plans to formally join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and will soon dispatch a “technical team” to Beijing to work out the details.

“We requested China to allow us to be a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Belt and Road Initiative … (and) are discussing technical issues today,” Azizi told Reuters on Thursday, the day after China’s latest BRI forum concluded.

“China, which invests all over the world, should also invest in Afghanistan,” Azizi said. “We have everything they need, such as lithium, copper, and iron. Afghanistan is now, more than ever, ready for investment.”

China is accumulating quite the rogue’s gallery for its dodgy “infrastructure” initiative, which critics say is more like a colonialism scheme to get developing nations hooked on gigantic Chinese loans they can never repay. Russian leader Vladimir Putin made his first trip outside of old Soviet territory since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for his arrest in March in response to his invasion of Ukraine to attend Wednesday’s BRI forum in Beijing, which is on the short list of cities Putin can visit without getting arrested for war crimes.

The Taliban entered talks in May to procure investments from China, one of the few countries in the world to treat the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” as a legitimate government. At that time, China avoided mentioning Belt and Road, instead inviting the Taliban to become peripheral players in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

CPEC is China’s major regional Belt and Road project, but Beijing decided to keep the primitive regime in Kabul at arm’s length from the BRI by talking about “frameworks” and “coordination” to launder its Afghanistan investments through the China-Pakistan corridor. China carefully avoided any press release that would say, “The Taliban has officially joined Belt and Road.”

The Taliban has not improved its ugly human rights record or become any more competent at governance since May. The regime still pretends the motley assortment of terrorists and Haqqani Network gangsters holding all government offices are merely “temporary” appointees, keeping the seats warm until a more professional and diverse government appears someday.

China nevertheless seems willing to abandon its pretenses and formally welcome the Taliban into the BRI. The Taliban sent representatives to the same Beijing forum that welcomed Putin, including Azizi. It was a high-profile event that also celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative.

“In general, the minister of industry and commerce’s goals are to strengthen economic, trade, and transit relations with China,” Taliban spokesman Akhundzada Abdul Salam Jawad said Monday before the forum commenced.

Not even the tyrants of Beijing have been willing to formally recognize the Taliban as a government, so the step-by-step approach to ushering it into the BRI looks like a cautious process of building economic influence — and getting China closer to the Afghan mineral resources it is eager to exploit — without conferring diplomatic prestige.

Azizi on Thursday specifically referred to the Mes Aynak copper mine, the largest copper deposit in Afghanistan and among the largest in the world. China has invested heavily in the mine, but its plans were thwarted by the presence of 5,000-year-old Buddhist ruins on the site, a historic archaeological find that has only been partially excavated.

“The Chinese company has made a huge investment, and we support them,” Azizi said, promising that negotiations to get the copper mine up and running are ongoing.

The Taliban might not be any more civilized than it was six months ago, but Azizi hinted that one reason China might welcome the Taliban more deeply into the BRI fold is that his government has made progress in defeating other extremist groups and protecting China’s investments.

“It is now possible to travel to provinces where there is industry, agriculture, and mines that one previously could not visit… security can be guaranteed,” he said.

The Taliban is desperate to bring in foreign investment, and as Western nations recoil from its brutal human rights violations, China and its BRI club are the most likely sources of outside cash. If China decides to make Afghanistan a fully certified partner in the BRI, it will go a long way toward encouraging other BRI client states to consider investing in the Taliban regime. 

Russia, China’s junior partner on the axis of tyranny, signed a deal with the Taliban in September to supply fuel and wheat to Afghanistan. Other nations in China’s orbit will likely follow suit if they become convinced the Taliban has a secure grip on power and can protect their investments and if they are confident China will shield them from the consequences of violating Western sanctions against Kabul.


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