As the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Russia use diplomacy to reach out to different political players in a bid to secure their security and economic interests.
Afghanistan’s neighbours are scrambling to figure out how to deal with an administration made up of Taliban insurgents who swiftly took over Kabul and seized the country without much of a fight by Afghan security forces.
China on Monday said it’s ready to deepen "friendly and cooperative" relations with Afghanistan while the Russian ambassador will meet Taliban officials on Tuesday.
In Islamabad, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi held meetings with a delegation of Afghan politicians including Ahmad Wali Massoud — the younger brother of Ahmad Shah Masoud who led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s.
“In the coming days, the international community would have to give some sort of recognition to the Taliban. It’s wishful thinking that Afghanistan can be turned into a pariah state under Taliban’s rule,” Tughral Yamin, an Islamabad-based security analyst and associate dean at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), told TRT World.
With its vast but unexplored mineral resources and concerns that its territory can be used by terrorist groups such as Daesh to stage attacks elsewhere, governments in the neighbourhood are working to secure their interests, he said.
It is imp that we closely coordinate our next steps for the benefit of Afghanistan and the region. There is clear international convergence in support of peace & reconciliation process & it is critical for 🇦🇫 leaders to unite for an inclusive & comprehensive political settlement. https://t.co/oav7BlLvOW— Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) August 16, 2021
What’s in it for neighbours?
Pakistan has a long history of working with the Taliban. The group’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar remained in custody of Pakistan’s security forces for years before he was released upon Washington’s request three years ago.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has repeatedly said it wasn’t prepared to handle a large influx of refugees as Islamabad’s finances are already strained and it’s on an IMF-loan lifeline.
On the other hand, Beijing has sought to maintain unofficial ties with the Taliban throughout the US' withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Unlike Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan that stretches for more than 2,000 km, China has a rugged and inaccessible 76-kilometre (47-mile) boundary with Afghanistan.
Yet, Beijing has long feared Afghanistan could become a staging point for minority separatists in the sensitive border region of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
A top-level Taliban delegation that met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin last month, has already promised that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militants.
"The Taliban have repeatedly expressed their hope to develop good relations with China, and that they look forward to China's participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.
Maintaining stability after decades of war in its western neighbour will be Beijing's main consideration, as it seeks to secure its borders and strategic infrastructure investments in neighbouring Pakistan, home to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
For Beijing, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics, analysts say.
China has so far stopped short of officially recognising the Taliban as the new leaders of Afghanistan, but Wang Yi called them a "decisive military and political force" during last month's meeting in Tianjin.
The Tuesday talks between Russian Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov and the Taliban would centre on how the group plans to provide security for the Russian embassy in the Afghan capital, a Moscow official said.
In an interview from Kabul with the state-run Rossiya 24 TV channel, ambassador Zhirnov said that the Taliban had started to "settle" in Kabul and had established "public order".
"The Taliban is already guarding our embassy," he said.
In the 1980s, Moscow fought a disastrous decade-long war in Afghanistan.
Fighters from the anti-Soviet Mujahideen helped found the Taliban in the early 1990s.
Russia will take part in an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan due later on Tuesday.
The Kremlin has in recent years reached out to the Taliban and hosted its representatives in Moscow several times, most recently last month.
Moscow is closely watching for a potential spillover of the instability into neighbouring ex-Soviet Central Asian countries where Russia maintains military bases.
For Russia to establish ties with the Taliban has another dimension, said Yamin. “Well, Moscow wants to get even with the US, which funded the Mujahideen and led to the Soviet defeat,” said Yamin.