ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Pakistan on Saturday hosted top diplomats from neighboring China and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan for a trilateral dialogue that seeks to promote regional security, trade, transit, and counterterrorism collaboration.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, who faces United Nations travel restrictions, was granted a waiver to attend the meeting in Islamabad. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his Pakistani counterpart, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, led their respective delegations at the fifth round of the trilateral framework.
The participants held “productive discussions on political engagement, counterterrorism, trade, and connectivity,” said the Pakistani Foreign Ministry in a brief post-meeting statement without elaborating.
Official sources said Pakistani and Chinese delegates had shared with Taliban representatives the security concerns stemming from a growing threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and the challenges it poses to neighboring countries. The delegates exchanged views about how to support the de facto Afghan authorities in the economic reconstruction of the conflict-ravaged impoverished South Asian nation.
Qin said before the trilateral meeting that China and Pakistan were ready to support “actively” the Afghan reconstruction efforts, but he pressed the Taliban to deliver on their regional and international commitments.
“We hope that Taliban would embrace inclusive government and moderate policies and maintain friendly relations with its neighbors,” the top Chinese diplomat told reporters after bilateral talks with Zardari. Qin spoke through his official interpreter.
“It is important that [the] Taliban take the security concerns of its neighbors seriously and take stronger measures to counter various terrorist forces within Afghanistan,” he noted.
Qin said that China was ready to step up counterterrorism and security cooperation with Afghanistan and Pakistan to jointly fight terrorist threats such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Beijing has long alleged ETIM militants use Afghan soil to wage cross-border attacks against China.
An Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group, known as IS-Khorasan, lately has also increased attacks in Afghanistan, targeting civilians, Taliban members and even Chinese nationals.
Speaking alongside his Chinese counterpart, Zardari also underscored Islamabad’s worries stemming from a spike in terrorist attacks in his country since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan nearly two years ago.
“For us in Pakistan, our core issue, our red line is the issue of terrorism, which poses a serious threat to our regional stability, regional peace and is a real stumbling block in the way of the progress of the Afghan people,” Zardari said.
Pakistan says fugitive leaders and members of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, use Afghan sanctuaries to plot cross-border terrorism. Officials in Islamabad maintain that terrorist activities have increased since the Taliban reclaimed power in Kabul in August 2021, killing hundreds of Pakistanis, mostly security forces.
TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, is an offshoot and close ally of the Afghan Taliban and played an instrumental role in their 20 years long insurgency against U.S.-led NATO forces that brought them to power nearly two years ago when the international forces left Afghanistan.
The Taliban deny they are allowing anyone to use Afghan soil to threaten Pakistan or other countries. Critics question those claims, citing the presence of fugitive TTP chief in last year’s failed peace talks with Pakistani officials that were brokered and hosted by the Taliban in Kabul.
Taliban leaders pledged they would respect the rights of all Afghans, including women. Instead, the hardline de facto authorities have gradually imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law or Sharia. They have stopped most women from working and banned teenage girls’ from receiving an education beyond the sixth grade.
The restrictions have outraged the international community and deterred it from recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.
Qin said Saturday that his government also was determined to link landlocked Afghanistan to a multibillion-dollar infrastructure development project in Pakistan with Chinese investment under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, is building new road networks, power plants, and ports to link the two countries and help Islamabad improve its economic productivity.
“We will help extend the CPEC toward Afghanistan, promote our exchanges on cooperation in trade, investment, and interactions, and enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges between our three countries,” Qin said.
China initiated the trilateral dialogue with Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2017 to help ease tensions between its two uneasy neighbors, which share a 2,600-kilometer border. The Taliban were at the time waging a deadly insurgency against the then-U.S.-backed Afghan government, though Beijing and Islamabad maintained contacts with insurgent leaders.
The U.S. and other Western governments had moved their diplomatic missions out of Kabul to Qatar when the Taliban seized power. But China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Russia are among around 20 neighboring and regional countries that have kept their embassies open or returned to Afghanistan.
While Western nations have suspended their economic cooperation with Kabul since withdrawing their troops, Beijing, Moscow, and Islamabad have increased engagement with the new Afghan authorities.
China recently secured a 25-year contract to extract oil from the Afghan Amu Darya Basin and are actively negotiating other investments with the Taliban. Russian exports to Afghanistan reportedly have increased to more than $10 million monthly.
The trade balance between the Taliban government and Pakistan has tilted in favor of Kabul for the first time in the history of bilateral ties. Taliban Commerce Minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi, accompanying Muttaqi on his Islamabad visit, met Saturday with his Pakistani counterpart, Syed Naveed Qamar.
An official statement said the two sides agreed to enhance trade volumes and streamline procedures to ensure “efficient border management” to improve bilateral trade and economic coope