UK Foreign Secretary Hopes Russia, China Will ‘Act as One’ in Engaging With Taliban
14:02 GMT 22.09.2021 (Updated: 15:39 GMT 22.09.2021)
© AFP 2021 / AAMIR QURESHIA vendor holds a Taliban flag next to the posters of Taliban leaders Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Amir Khan Muttaqi (L) as he waits for customers along a street in Kabul on August 27, 2021, following the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan, of which Britain was a part, withdrew from the country last month after the Kabul government’s sudden collapse, just ten days after the Taliban* took its first city. In April, President Biden said Washington would be asking “other countries” to “do more” to “support Afghanistan” in the wake of Washington's exit.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will be asking Russia and China to join together in engaging with the Taliban now that the group has become the de-facto rulers of Afghanistan.
“If we want to avoid Afghanistan becoming a haven for global terror then the international community – including Russia and China – needs to act as one in its engagement with the Taliban,” Truss said in a statement ahead of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5) and UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday.
Truss, the UK’s newly-minted top diplomat, made her way to New York on Sunday ahead of the UN General Assembly, which kicked off on Tuesday. In addition to discussions with Security Council officials, and with US officials, the foreign secretary is expected to meet with her Russian and Iranian counterparts on the sidelines of the international forum, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Britain is currently in charge of coordinating the P5 group, with Wednesday’s meeting to be the first of its kind since 2019.
“I want our foreign policy to be practically focused and geared toward strengthening our network of economic and diplomatic partnerships, underpinned by strong security ties,” Truss’s said. “My visit to the UN is the start of an autumn where Global Britain leads the way on the world stage,” she added.
The foreign secretary’s comments come amid an out-of-the-blue escalation of tensions between Russia and the UK on Tuesday after a pair of back-to-back announcements by British police and the European Court of Human Rights on the poisoning scandals from 2018 and 2006 involving former spy Sergei Skripal and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko, which once again accused Moscow of responsibility for the crimes. Russia vocally rejected the allegations and pointed to their odd timing ahead of the expected face-to-face meeting between Lavrov and Truss.
Truss took over as foreign secretary last week after Johnson reshuffled Dominic Raab, who was known to have taken a keen interest in an aggressive “Global Britain” policy, including the summer deployment of a British destroyer into Russian waters off Crimea, and the sending of a Royal Navy carrier task force to the Pacific to “confront China.”
Russia and China Step Into Afghan ‘Pandora’s Box’ Following US Exit
Both Russia and China have taken steps to establish diplomatic contacts with the Taliban in recent months in the wake of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. The two countries have kept their diplomatic missions in Kabul open, even as many Western embassies packed up and left, and have invited Taliban emissaries to visit Moscow and Tianjin to discuss the prospects of security cooperation and the formation of a broad, inclusive government.
Moscow, mindful of security considerations along its southern borders with Central Asia, has deployed troops to take part in drills near Afghanistan’s borders in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and has made clear to the Taliban that any foreign terrorists operating in Afghanistan would be unacceptable to Russia. The militant group has vowed to make good on its commitment not allow terrorists to find safe havens in territories under its control, and has assured Russia and Kabul’s Central Asian neighbours that it will not allow for violence and instability to spill over into neighbouring countries.
China pledged to provide Afghanistan with 200 million yuan ($31 million) in emergency food and Covid vaccine aid earlier this month, and is reported to have expressed a broad interest in a dramatic expansion in economic cooperation with the country to take advantage of trillions of dollars in rare earth metals buried under its land to power the Asian nation’s booming electric car industry.
Last week, at a meeting of the China and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation security bloc, President Xi Jinping urged “relevant parties” in Afghanistan to crush terrorism, and promised more assistance to the country.
During the same meeting, in a joint speech to the SCO and Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russian-led alliance, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the two blocs “share similar approaches to responding to the threats that have been emanating from Afghanistan,” and said he was “convinced that it is certainly in our common interests to help Afghanistan achieve peace and stability, at long last.”
According to Putin, the US and its NATO allies “left behind an open Pandora’s box full of problems caused by terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime and, unfortunately, religious extremism…The Western countries left, abandoning an entire arsenal of modern weapons, military equipment and munitions.”
“We are extremely interested in seeing Afghanistan assert itself as an independent, neutral, integral and democratic state free from terrorism, war and drugs, living in peace with its neighbours. In this context, the launch of sustainable, efficient and result-oriented intra-Afghan dialogue involving all ethnic and political groups of Afghan society has special significance,” Putin stressed.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.