BEIJING AND MOSCOW — The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Russia, Vladimir Putin, spoke on Wednesday, in their first phone call since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan on the 15th. They agreed to work together to prevent the crisis in the Central Asian country from turning into a regional security risk.
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According to the Chinese state-run Global Times, Xi has again stated that he respects Afghanistan’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” and that he insists on “non-interference in its domestic affairs”. The Chinese leader, however, said he was willing to work with other countries, such as Russia, in a concerted effort to encourage all Afghan political factions to build an inclusive government:
— An open and inclusive political framework through consultation, the implementation of prudent and moderate internal and external policies, the complete disassociation of all terrorist groups and maintaining friendly relations with the rest of the world, especially neighboring countries — said Xi on what waiting for the Taliban in power.
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China is particularly concerned about the Taliban’s relations with the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (Etim), which received training and weapons from Osama bin Laden’s group and al-Qaeda to fight for independence in Xinjiang, northern province. eastern China where half the population is Muslim, the majority ethnic Uighur.
The Kremlin, for its part, said the presidents expressed during the phone call their intention to “increase efforts to combat threats of terrorism and drug trafficking” coming from Afghanistan. They also discussed the “importance of establishing peace” in the Central Asian country and “preventing instability from spreading to the rest of the region”.
Putin and Xi’s call came a day after G-7 leaders met to discuss the Afghan crisis. Despite pressure from allies, the group at first did not convince US President Joe Biden to postpone the withdrawal of US fighters from Afghanistan, which was scheduled for August 31.
Earlier, the Taliban had already reiterated that it will not accept an extension of the deadline. Unlike several countries that rushed to close their embassies with the fundamentalist group’s return to power, Moscow and Beijing keep their diplomatic representations in Kabul open.
In recent months, as it became clear that a return to power by the fundamentalist group was inevitable, both Russians and Chinese sat at table with Taliban representatives. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi even welcomed the head of the Taliban political bureau, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, for meetings in the city of Tianjin last month.
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After the takeover of Kabul materialized, both countries issued friendly notes on the fundamentalist group, making clear their willingness to collaborate. Beijing said at the time that it wanted to maintain “friendly relations” with the Taliban, continuing its policy of dialogue with those in power.
The Russians, in turn, announced the establishment of contacts with representatives of the “new Afghan authorities”. Putin nevertheless sent four military planes to Kabul, evacuating more than 500 people, including not just Russian citizens but also from allied countries such as Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
If last week Moscow insisted that the situation was “stabilizing” and a “bloodbath among civilians was avoided”, the rhetoric is different this Wednesday. The Russians justified the evacuation by saying the climate in the region is “very tense” and the risk of terrorist threats “very high”, citing the presence of Islamic State cells in Afghanistan.
Very influential in Central Asia, Russia is particularly concerned that Afghanistan under Taliban command is a fertile ground for terrorist activities. For example, it carries out joint military exercises with Tajikistan to strengthen security on the country’s border with Afghanistan.