China’s foreign minister will meet Taliban officials this weekend as Beijing plans to boost investment in Afghanistan, including involving the crisis-hit country in its Belt and Road infrastructure project.
Qin Gang will meet in Pakistan on Saturday with Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Pakistani Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Saturday as part of the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral foreign ministers’ dialogue.
The three ministers will discuss “regional stability and transit”, according to the Afghan Foreign Ministry, as well as strengthening trade ties.
The meeting comes after China’s Foreign Ministry said last month that it “welcomes Afghanistan’s participation in the Belt and Road cooperation and supports Afghanistan’s integration into the cooperation.” and regional economic connectivity”.
Since overthrowing the NATO-backed government in 2021 after two decades of war, the Taliban have courted world powers, including China and Russia, to invest in order to shore up the crumbling economy and ease international isolation of the regime.
This includes efforts to attract Chinese investment in infrastructure to connect Afghanistan to its neighbors, such as Pakistan, through the BRI.
Beijing has invested billions in Pakistan through the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a network of roads, trains and ports being built that is expected to eventually be worth up to $60 billion.
“The idea is to engage Afghanistan in an economic activity that has already linked China and Pakistan,” a Pakistani official told the Financial Times.
Chinese and Afghan officials said in January that state-owned Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Company had reached an agreement to drill for oil in the country. Last year, the Taliban also struck a deal with Russia to source oil and wheat.
But while Afghanistan’s rich unexplored reserves of minerals such as lithium and copper have long attracted foreign nations, significant investment in infrastructure or mining has so far proven extremely difficult due to the precarious security situation.
In 2007, state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation secured the rights to Mes Aynak, one of the world’s largest known copper reserves, but did not develop it.
Afghanistan has suffered economic disaster since the return of the Taliban prompted the United States and its allies to cut most funding.
UN Secretary-General António Gutteres said this week that the country was trapped in “the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today”. About 28 million people, two-thirds of its population, need help with six million people close to starvation, according to the UN.
The Taliban also imposed their harsh ideology, denying girls and women access to education and work. This prompted many foreign governments to break their engagement with the group.
Both China and Pakistan see maintaining ties with the Taliban as vital to their security. Analysts say Afghanistan is a base for several regional terror groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which Pakistani officials blame for an upsurge in violence, as well as the Uyghur militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
The deterioration of the situation has caused alarm throughout the region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Pakistani counterpart Bhutto Zardari this week in India, during which the two men discussed the situation in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters, Lavrov said he expected the Taliban to “keep (on) their promises to form an inclusive government. . .[and]ensuring representation of the full range of political forces in Afghanistan”. He added: “That hasn’t been done yet.”