West Consider Aid for Afghanistan, Pakistan and China to Provide Relief
September 13, 2021
As international donors gather in Geneva on Monday to discuss humanitarian relief for Afghanistan under Taliban rule, China and Pakistan have already reached out with aid and are discussing future assistance. According to experts, the war-torn country’s economy is in shambles, and a humanitarian crisis is on the horizon. However, the United States and other Western nations are hesitant to provide funds to the Taliban until the new rulers provide assurances that they will uphold human rights, particularly women’s rights.
The country’s roughly $10 billion in foreign assets, which are held abroad, have also been frozen. “The understandable goal is to deny these funds to the de facto Taliban administration,” Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Afghanistan, said this week at the UN Security Council. “However, the unavoidable result will be a severe economic downturn that will throw many more millions into poverty and hunger, may result in a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan, and will effectively set Afghanistan back for generations.”
Another possible outcome would be for Afghanistan to become more dependent on its neighbors and close allies, Pakistan and China, both of which have already sent planeloads of supplies to the country. They have also indicated that they are open to increased engagement. China announced last week that it would send $31 million in food and medical supplies to Afghanistan, making it one of the first foreign aid pledges made since the Taliban seized power last month. Pakistan last week sent supplies such as cooking oil and medicine to Kabul authorities, while the country’s foreign minister urged the international community to provide unconditional assistance and unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets.
Militancy and Minerals
China, which has a close relationship with Pakistan, has also been in contact with the Taliban. According to some analysts, it was drawn in by the country’s mineral wealth, which included large reserves of lithium, a key component in electric vehicles. China has also expressed concern about militancy spreading across its border from Afghanistan, which it wants the Taliban administration to help contain. Aside from humanitarian assistance, some regional experts and officials believe China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could provide Afghanistan with long-term economic viability.
One possibility is that Afghanistan will join the CPEC, a key component of the BRI, under which Beijing has pledged more than $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, the majority of which will be in the form of loans. “The Taliban would welcome participation in CPEC, and China would be thrilled,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan.
China has not commented on the BRI, but Foreign Minister Wang Yi has stated that Beijing is willing to actively discuss the resumption of China-Afghanistan freight trains in order to facilitate Afghanistan’s interaction with the outside world, particularly its access to humanitarian supplies.
In recent weeks, Taliban leaders have stated their desire for good relations with China. According to a senior Taliban source, talks have taken place in Doha with China about potential investment opportunities. According to the source, China is particularly interested in mining, but any activity in the sector will be subject to competitive bidding.
“The Taliban welcomes foreign investment that benefits the country,” he stated. According to two sources familiar with the matter in Afghanistan and Pakistan, China has been actively promoting Afghanistan to join CPEC for years but has received a non-committal response from the previous US-backed government. With a need for economic stimulus and international recognition, the Taliban appears to be more interested.
“CPEC, which includes Pakistan and China is the best way forward and the immediately available alternative option for Afghanistan’s economic development,” said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a Pakistani senator and former chairman of the China-Pakistan Institute. “The new administration in Kabul would be receptive to this as well, and they are interested in it.” For China, which already has mining interests in Afghanistan that have struggled to get off the ground, any additional investment would come with risks, given the country’s uncertain security situation.
“Certainly, Afghanistan’s security and stability are important to China,” said Wang Huiyao, president of the Centre for China and Globalization think tank. “However, links to Central Asia and connectivity via the Belt and Road Initiative are all related to regional stability and prosperity. There’s a lot at stake for China.