Daily Evacuation Brief | March 26, 2022
LAST 24 HOURS:
The motion for a no-confidence vote in Pakistan was delayed until Monday as expected. If the motion carries, there will be seven days of debate before the vote. Khan has stated recently that he would not step down. There is a real potential for violence in Pakistan, and the border may close temporarily if violence ensues.
A new resistance group announced its formation. The Front of Freedom and Population of Afghanistan has established social media platforms. At this time, the composition and capabilities of the group are unknown but a source claimed they are operating closely with the Tajik-centric resistance group, the Afghanistan Freedom Front.
The US canceled upcoming economic talks in Doha over the recent decision by the Taliban to cancel school for young women.
It was confirmed that the clashes between Pakistan and TTP terrorists took place on March 24 took place in the Hassan Khel area of North Waziristan. The clashes resulted in the deaths of four Pakistani Army personnel and an unknown number of casualties from the TTP group.
NEXT 24 HOURS:
As of publication, there were no known threats.
ANALYSIS SPOTLIGHT: China & the Taliban
Shortly after attending the OIC conference in Pakistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to meet with Taliban leadership and discuss security and economic cooperation. This is the highest level delegation the Taliban has received so far and strongly signaled the Chinese government’s willingness to engage with the Taliban regime, even in the wake of internationally controversial decisions like their policy reversal for secondary education for girls.
According to sources within the Palace, the recent meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the Taliban leadership was part “carrot” and part “stick”. Much of the conversation focused on carrots such as development projects, economic cooperation, and getting Afghanistan more deeply embedded into the One Belt One Road initiative. Formal recognition appears closer than ever as Minister Wang commended the Taliban’s “tangible results” in “actively respond[ing] to the concerns of the international community.” The irony of making this statement the day after the Taliban banned girls from secondary school was tidily ignored. Human rights are clearly not a condition for China’s recognition, reflected by Wang’s statements that China “respects the independent choices made by the Afghan people,” “respects the religious beliefs and national customs of Afghanistan,” and has “never interfered in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.”
Above all else, stability and security are China’s priorities in Afghanistan. We believe putting additional pressure on the Taliban for more effective security cooperation was the primary reason for Minister Wang’s visit. Although China’s border with Afghanistan is small, China has been concerned for years that Afghanistan’s instability allows it be to be an effective breeding ground for terrorism that could affect China’s stability. They are particularly concerned about the Turkistan Islamic Movement (TIM; formerly ETIM), an extremist Muslim Uyghur separatist group attempting to “liberate” the Xinjiang region of China to form an independent state. They have historical and current ties to the Afghan Taliban, the TTP, and al-Qaeda. The Taliban have been torn between their relationship with and support for the TIM, and their desire to please China in order to receive aid and recognition.
The Taliban have proactively reassured the Chinese government that they are expelling “terrorists”, mostly TIM members, from the Badakhshan region of Afghanistan, but observers are skeptical. It appears that while the Taliban’s mouth is with China, its heart remains with TIM. Sources present at the OIC conference reported that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang received several warnings from conference delegates that TIM was gaining strength in Afghanistan and the Taliban was not effectively cracking down. To the contrary, funding flows are reportedly increasing, and TIM has been receiving new military equipment, possibly from the Taliban. We believe Minister Wang’s subsequent surprise visit to Afghanistan was primarily intended as an aggressive response to this information. He wanted to pointedly illustrate the depth of China’s concern and frustration with the security situation.
Further underlining this theory is the simultaneous meeting between representatives of the Ministry of Interior and Chinese officials to discuss unmet commitments from the Tianjin meetings between the Taliban and Chinese government in July 2021 before their takeover. The Chinese had been expecting a harsher and more effective crackdown from the new regime, which was a large part of why they were so open to engagement before they even took power.
While the outward appearance of solidarity and cooperation was maintained in subsequent statements, Minister Wang went out of his way to mention the Taliban’s pledge to disallow terrorist groups to operate from Afghanistan.
The bottom line for Chinese President Xi Jinping is regional stability. Not only does a security partnership with Afghansitan undercut terrorism regionally, it helps stabilize Xinjiang, protects Chinese investments, and allows the One Belt One Road initiative to flourish.
This drive for stability also explains two additional recent Chinese actions. First, it is believed that President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov’s recent surprise visit to Afghanistan was coordinated by the Chinese. They clearly want all main regional players to pressure the Taliban for similar security guarantees. Secondly, Minister Wang downplayed Afghanistan’s integration into the Belt and Road in his recent visit, instead focusing on development assistance. This implies that Chinese business and infrastructure development may occur more slowly in Afghanistan than previously expected while the Chinese wait for the additional security they are demanding. After having major investments floundering in Afghanistan for years due to insecurity issues, this should not be a surprise.
It is unclear how sincerely the Taliban will assist in suppressing the TIM given their historical partnership, despite Chinese pressure. Clearly, TIM members are still operating in Badakhshan. It was barely over a month ago that the purported TIM leader Abdul Haq al-Turkistani was reportedly seen in Afghanistan, as reported in our February 18 DEB. In fact, coordination appears to be increasing given TIM’s recent inflow of resources and frightening reports that al-Turkistani may be working with a Haqqani-sponsored cell to develop biological and chemical weapons in labs at the American University of Kabul.
It is also unclear how China may respond if the Taliban continue to disappoint them. China clearly does not care about humanitarian issues and would have no qualms in ceasing humanitarian assistance and development projects in order to force the Taliban’s hand if they felt it necessary. However, they do care about instability on their borders, and the side effects of this option may prove too risky.
On the flip side, if the Taliban's lack of a crackdown is determined to be more related to their capacity than their willingness, China could be open to funding the Taliban’s security forces in order to more effectively combat threats, keep the country stable, and protect their investments. However, this would only occur if the Taliban were able to breed a substantial amount of trust, which gets less likely as the Haqqanis continue to engage with TIM.
For now they will continue to dangle the carrot of assistance and recognition, firmly push for better security cooperation, and hope for the best.
Afghani to the Dollar: $1 – 87.92 AFN (as of 26 MAR 2022)
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