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Daily Evacuation Brief | March 15, 2022
Open source daily news about Afghanistan and the surrounding region powered by Operation Snow Leopard
LAST 24 HOURS:
Sources have reported a new tactic being employed by Taliban intelligence officers to canvas neighborhoods. They arrive disguised as buyers of old goods or women begging for clothes for their children and ask children about the elders of the family. Some of the questions asked:
Have your parents traveled abroad?
Where did your father work last year?
Searches began in Police District 12 (Bagrami). They appeared to be targeted searches, as teams went to specific homes on different streets. They were asking for former military personnel.
A flight containing 300 Afghans who had been deported from the UAE back to Afghanistan arrived in Kabul.
A man who attempted to smuggle $600,000 was arrested by Taliban border guards at the Milak crossing in Nimroz province. The man is currently being interrogated.
Strike Labs has launched a new site to assist with tracking human rights abuses. The site is secure and is more intuitive to enter information than the UN’s site. Colleagues involved in the evacuation effort, NGOs working in Afghanistan, and individuals with knowledge of instances of abuse are encouraged to try it out.
NEXT 24 HOURS:
Follow up searches are expected to continue, targeting former members of the regime. The Taliban have been focused on the Western and Northern neighborhoods of Kabul recently. Sources say the goal of the searches is to confiscate weapons, but in several cases money has been taken from families.
It is possible a deal will be announced between Qatar, Turkey, and the Taliban over management of civil aviation in Afghanistan. The parties have been negotiating for months.
More road checkpoints are planned for routes into the north of the country. Sources said the checkpoints are not necessarily in response to a threat but are for training the new cadres who have been graduating from police and army camps.
ANALYSIS SPOTLIGHT: China and the Taliban
The Taliban’s relationship with the Chinese government is by far one of the most important components of their foreign policy, and so far relations seem very warm. China was the first country to pledge humanitarian aid after the Taliban seized power, and they have engaged in a wide variety of high-level diplomatic engagements over the last 7 months.
Despite the inherent power imbalance between the two regimes, the Taliban retains a surprising amount of power due to their immense wealth in minerals, rare earths, gas, oil, precious stones, and more. China is known for its imbalanced and predatory contracts, but mining contracts forged over the years have been surprisingly favorable to Afghans. Furthermore, Afghanistan is critical to more than just China’s economic plans; a stable Afghanistan is key to regional stability and ensuring groups that threaten China’s security do not have a safe haven.
China’s material interests in Afghanistan, especially mining, are closely watched. Over just the last several weeks, dozens of Chinese mining companies have gone to Kabul in search of new mining contracts. With an estimated $1-3 trillion in mineral wealth waiting to be unearthed in Afghanistan, Chinese companies are eager to get in on the action, especially copper and lithium contracts.
However, this has proven more complicated than expected. Firstly, although the Taliban’s Mining Ministry has signed a handful of contracts on some new small-scale mines, the motherlode remains in Mes Aynak, a huge copper deposit located underneath an ancient, ruined city. The Taliban seem intent on preserving the ruins and are in the process of conceptualizing a plan that preserves the city but allows for mining to commence as soon as possible. For now, it appears that the best case scenario is mining begins in 3 years, with only small-scale copper mining in the meantime. By that point, it’s unclear who will be ruling Afghanistan, which complicates matters.
The obvious immediate alternative would be focusing on extracting lithium and other rare earths. Afghanistan is believed to be one of the most lithium-rich countries in the world, and China is eager to expand its control over rare earths as the world inches closer to a potential lithium revolution. However, Mining Minister Shahabuddin Dilawar has firmly shut down all inquiries into lithium mines, saying they will be preserved for now.
The China-Taliban relationship is also largely defined by a security partnership. China knows a stable, friendly Afghanistan means greater regional security and peace. Even China’s veneer of concern for human rights and inclusivity in Afghanistan is really security concerns in disguise as they try to promote stability within Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the Chinese are very concerned about the several hundred Uyghur militants that have been taking refuge in Afghanistan and had a friendly relationship with the Taliban since the 90s. After being exiled from China’s Xinjiang region in the late 1990s, these militants formed the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an extremist group that aims to liberate Xinjiang province and establish an independent state. Despite their longstanding ties to ETIM, the Taliban have said they are willing to support China’s attempts to curtail this security threat and claimed they will no longer provide ETIM sanctuary in Afghanistan.
The Taliban and China will continue to actively engage in mining and petroleum contracts, but the Taliban’s hesitation to open up lithium mining deserves close examination. We believe there are a few primary possibilities:
The Taliban may be holding lithium access back as a bargaining piece in order to leverage additional aid or even recognition from China.
Mining Minister Dilawar has previously stated that the Taliban would prefer Western countries’ engagement on mining contracts given their superior technical skills and experience. They may be waiting to open up lithium mining until Western business has returned to Afghanistan. This would likely protect their precious resources better, result in fairer contracts, attract additional Western investments if investor confidence was restored, and bolster the Taliban’s relationships with the wider world.
The Taliban may recognize Afghanistan’s capacity for enormous wealth given their plethora of natural resources and see lithium as the ticket to their economic transformation. With a potential lithium era approaching and the realization that economic development will be key to staying in power, the Taliban may go so far as imposing a ban on exporting raw lithium and attempting to have investors export more developed lithium-centric products from within Afghanistan in order to generate wealth and create jobs for Afghans. On the other hand, they may be waiting to open up lithium resources until demand and prices are even higher and relying on profits from copper, oil, and gas for now.
All of these theories imply a surprising amount of sophistication and patience among Taliban leadership. The invasion of Ukraine renders these strategies even more effective, given that Ukraine is also believed to have enormous amounts of lithium. With the ongoing invasion and likely long-lingering insecurity in eastern Ukraine, where most of the lithium is concentrated, the supply of lithium is now even more limited.
As for security, whether or not the Taliban will be able to tame ETIM remains to be seen. They need substantial funds to be able to have effective security forces. It is possible China would be willing to fund the Taliban’s security forces in order to more effectively combat this threat and keep the country stable.
However, we do not believe that China’s warm engagement with the Taliban necessarily implies they will recognize them soon. It is our assessment that for the foreseeable future they will continue to avoid the issue until several other countries have announced their intentions to recognize the Taliban.
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