Taliban says it will rely on ‘most important partner’ China to help rebuild after two decades of war

The top spokesman for the Taliban government which has taken over Afghanistan said in an interview Thursday his country will rely primarily on Chinese funding to help rebuild economically following 20 years of war.

According to several reports, Zabihullah Mujahid told the Italian daily La Republicca, “China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country.”

He added that the Taliban government supports China’s “Belt & Road” initiative, which some in the West have criticized as an economic assistance scheme devised by Beijing to hook countries into taking loans they can’t repay in exchange for giving China access to resources in the country.

And to that point, Mujahid told La Repubblica Afghanistan’s “rich copper mines in the country, which, thanks to the Chinese, can be put back into operation and modernized.

“In addition, China is our pass to markets all over the world,” he added.

Chinese diplomats have already moved to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s official government. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said earlier this week “facts show that in realizing economic development we need an open inclusive political structure, implementation of moderate foreign and domestic policies and clean break from terrorist groups in all forms.”

Mujahid added that the Taliban government also sees Russia as a potentially valuable ally as well and will seek to open relations with Moscow as well.

The spokesman went on to say that the Belt and Road initiative, also known as the New Silk Road — which China is using to increase its economic influence around the globe — is important to his government.

His comments come after the Taliban swiftly regained control of the country as the ruling government and its 300,000-member military and security force disintegrated as fighters quickly advanced beginning in July.

Regarding Chinese influence, there are concerns in some security and foreign policy circles that Beijing is angling to get access to an estimated $1 trillion worth of minerals, some of which are highly valuable “rare earth minerals” used in sensitive technologies and highly advanced military systems and aircraft.

“Afghanistan is certainly one of the regions richest in traditional precious metals, but also the metals [needed] for the emerging economy of the 21st century,” Rod Schoonover, a scientist, security expert and founder of the Ecological Futures Group, told CNN last month.

That said, there are a lot of challenges that would have to be met before any large-scale extraction of those resources were to occur. They include security issues — ISIS-K, a growing militant group in Afghanistan, is opposed to the Taliban — as well as the building of roads, bridges, and mining processing infrastructure, which will take years if not decades considering the country is among the poorest in the world.

“It’s a big question mark,” Schoonover said.

There are also questions as to whether the Afghan people would benefit, or whether large, powerful, rich nations like China and India would seize upon the opportunity to exploit them and steal their wealth, which has happened many times in the past with poor countries.

Currently, three nations — China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Australia — account for more than three-quarters of the world’s lithium, cobalt, and rare earth minerals, all of which are needed for so-called ‘green energy’ technologies.

Jon Dougherty

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