China thanks Afghanistan for support combating ETIM

Taliban delegation also invited to the Chinese capital for talks last month, report says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 11:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2016, 12:07am

The defence minister thanked the head of the Afghan army for Kabul’s support against what Beijing brands an extremist group seeking independence for the western region of Xinjiang.

Defence Minister Chang Wanquan thanked Afghan army chief of general staff Qadam Shah Shaheem for Kabul’s “valuable support in combating the [East Turkestan Islamic Movement] terrorist forces and on issues related to China’s core interests”, Xinhua reported.

A statement on the defence ministry’s website cited Shaheem as saying Afghanistan was willing to continue fighting ETIM by “deepening cooperation on personnel training and joint exercises and other means”.

The meeting on Sunday came after China invited a Taliban delegation to Beijing last month to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, where the insurgent movement was still fighting the Western-backed government in Kabul, Reuters reported.

Sources in the Taliban said a delegation visited China in July for five days, but Chinese officials have not confirmed it. The delegation was led by Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, Reuters reported.

In public statements, the ­Taliban has said it wishes to have good ties with Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Li Lifan, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social ­Sciences, said it was not the first time China had talked to the Taliban, and Beijing needed to do so partly to ensure the safety of Chinese investments in Taliban-controlled zones.

“The Taliban hopes the People’s Liberation Army will get involved in the peace process in ­Afghanistan,” Li said.

“So it can’t be ruled out that the Taliban delegation may have contacted the Chinese military.”

China has long been concerned that instability in Afghanistan will spill over into violence-prone Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uygur people, where hundreds have died in recent years in unrest blamed by Beijing on Islamist extremists.

The United States and UN have listed ETIM as a terrorist group, though some experts have questioned its cohesiveness and say China’s policies in Xinjiang have contributed to unrest.

China says it does not seek to fill a security void created in ­Afghanistan since the US-led Nato mission ceased combat operations there at the end of 2014. But it has promised to play a “huge” commercial role in helping rebuild the country.

Additional reporting by Reuters