Nothing wrong with China helping Afghanistan under BRI: Taliban spokesperson
Road to recovery
Published: Sep 14, 2021 08:19 PM
A Taliban fighter stands guard next to an aircraft at the Kabul airport on September 12. Photo:AFP

A Taliban fighter stands guard next to an aircraft at the Kabul airport on September 12. Photo:AFP

Editor's Note:

The newly announced interim government has already performed its duty in Afghanistan. So far no country has ventured to recognize the Taliban-led government. But the world is closely watching the interim government and the latest situation in Afghanistan. In the light of the announcement of the interim government, Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) interviewed Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen (Shaheen) on anti-terrorism, ETIM ("East Turkistan Islamic Movement"), the new interim government, China's role in Afghanistan's reconstruction among other topics of people's interests.

Top priorities of new govt

GT: Some critics have said that the new interim government is not as inclusive as the Taliban once promised and has failed to showcase Afghanistan's vast ethnic diversity. What's your response?

Shaheen: There was a vacuum of power. We wanted to appoint the ministers as a matter of urgency in order to provide essential services to the people of Afghanistan. As you have seen, we have other ethnicities. For example, Abdul Salam Hanafi, who is the acting deputy prime minister, is Uzbek.

There are other ministerial posts to be filled in future. It is worth noting that this is an interim government and these positions will soon be permanently filled with a selection of ministers.  We believe in inclusiveness of the government. 

GT: The acting prime minister is still on a UN sanction list, and the new interior minister is the son of the founder of Haqqani network, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US. Do you worry this will make it harder for the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" to get international recognition?

Shaheen: We are a liberation force. We were fighting for the liberation of our country, but some of the occupying countries, don't want to delist our members. We are living in such a one-sided world. Hopefully other freedom-loving nations and forces will support our efforts in building our country, in building peace and to work toward prosperity. 

GT: When can we expect remaining posts to be announced? Will women and other ethnic groups be represented in those remaining posts?

Shaheen: Everything is possible. Those posts will be announced after proper and due consideration and perusal. Besides, we are in talks with other Afghan politicians and factions. If we reach agreement, there may be some other outcomes. Those who are not members of this cabinet may take high-ranking jobs in the government. 

GT: Is there a timetable for the announcement of a formal government? Will there be any ceremony for the government formation?

Shaheen: So it is about future. First of all, there are some ministerial portfolios that have still not been filled. Changes are also possible in the future because all of these ministers are acting ministers, so there is a scope for further changes.

Maybe this month or next month. I can't say but they are all possible.

Due to urgency, an intended ceremony was canceled as our priority was to fill the power vacuum and return to providing essential services to the people of Afghanistan. Perhaps in the future, when there is a formal cabinet, but this is something that we shall come to in due time.

GT:  What would the top priorities be for the new interim government?

Shaheen: Our priority is that we want to focus on economics for the people of Afghanistan; to create job opportunities for our people; to lift the living standards of our people; to focus on the construction of Afghanistan and the rehabilitation of the country; and also to maintain stability all over the country, while working toward peaceful coexistence among our people.

GT:  The UN has warned the food stock in Afghanistan will be depleted soon. The prices in Kabul have skyrocketed in the recent past. How would you deal with the looming food crisis in Afghanistan to ensure access to basic needs for the citizens?

Shaheen: That is why we are calling on the UN and other friendly countries, including the neighboring countries to come forward and help the people of Afghanistan at this crucial time. Because we, the Afghan people, have been hit by the drought of the past couple of years. We are facing also a humanitarian crisis in the country because of a lack of food. So there is a need for other countries to come forward and assist the people of Afghanistan. We do not want this assistance for ourselves, but we want it for our people. We are also hoping that the international community can help the people of Afghanistan financially and also in terms of providing food for the people.

Combat terrorism 

GT: The Kabul airport terror attack on August 27 has triggered concern that whether  the Taliban will be able to restrain or rein in radicals and terrorists. What's your response? 

Shaheen: There were some reasons for what happened at the airport. One was that the US and other Western countries had announced that everyone who wanted to go to resettle in Western countries could go without any need for passports or visas or any other kind of documentation. So many Kabul residents swarmed the airport and caused a huge assembly of people. This was one reason because no one was able to distinguish between who was going to travel abroad, or who was a terrorist among them, because there were thousands of people at the airport. There was no strict screening, and it was not possible to search every person.

Their announcement was just a kind of propaganda step to show to the world that these people are scared and terrified. They are terrified because of the Taliban, while the fact was that they were told to come to the airport and climb into planes, and they would be accepted into Western countries.

The second thing is that all the gates leading to the Kabul airport were secure. There was no incident that happened at the other gates. But there was one gate which was under the control of US forces with the support of the Afghan forces. This is where the incident happened.

Unfortunately, beside the main gate through which people entered the airport, there was also a secondary route being used to gain access into the airport, which was used by the terrorists to gain access to the gate manned by US troops supported by Afghan forces. When the terrorist reached this gate, he detonated the explosive device. 

It was not a Taliban-manned area but an area manned by US troops that was the scene of the incident. And since the US forces' withdrawal, there have been no more such incidents. We have controlled the situation in terms of security.

GT: Some reports said that the Taliban is in discussion with Turkey to let Turkey help with security at the Kabul airport. Could you confirm that?

Shaheen: We were in talks with Turkey about spearheading repairs on the Kabul airport to allow international flights to resume service. 

When the US left, they damaged the Kabul airport. They damaged all the instruments, including the radar, the helicopters, the airplanes, and parking in the airport. They also damage all other weapons. So we needed to initiate such talks with Turkey.  Qatar also came forward and helped us. They sent a technical team to the Kabul airport and repaired the airport. We hope that commercial flights will resume soon. 

GT: Who will be in charge of the fight against terrorism in your new government? 

Shaheen: Our security force, and the ministry of defense and the interior ministry and also our intelligence department. They will be working together and cooperating with each other to ensure that no one is using the Afghan side against other countries. They will be working together with each other.

GT: Do you have any plan to step up strikes against ISIS and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan? What will you do with al-Qaeda members now taking shelter in your country?

Shaheen: We have already sent out a clear message, that we shall not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against any country. This message is well known, having been communicated countless times in the media, so now our security forces are monitoring all activities in Afghanistan. No such forces will be allowed to find safe haven in Afghanistan.

GT:  Will you launch any counter-terrorism strike with other countries? Will you share relevant intelligence with other countries?

Shaheen: No, we do not need other countries. If there is any security problem then we shall be able to resolve it ourselves.  Because we fought against the US - a world superpower - for 20 years, we believe we are capable and have the experience and the necessary weaponry to fight, should we encounter any resistance or anyone operating contrary to the law. As for the intelligence, we are working independently. Both our intelligence and security departments are working independently, but should any country have any concern, they can express concern through diplomatic meetings. This was the case in the past year and it will continue to be the same.

GT: Would you consider extraditing ETIM members in Afghanistan to China, if China requests this in the future?

Shaheen: We will not allow, as I said, for anyone to use Afghanistan for terrorist activities. And with that announcement, I do not see that anyone of anywhere will be able to stay in Afghanistan, especially those who are intending to carry out the idea of sabotage activities in other countries or they have their foreign agenda. They will not have a place here and they will leave Afghanistan. Many have already left the country.

I know after the Doha agreement, many have left Afghanistan, because we categorically said that there is no place for anyone to use Afghanistan against other counties, including neighboring countries.

Because we can see it is in our international interest to implement this policy. Otherwise it will be difficult for us to focus on the reconstruction of Afghanistan to provide a comfortable life for our people if we are entangled in other issues and are unable to be free to work toward the welfare of our people. 

GT: What will happen to those ETIM members who are still in Afghanistan?

Shaheen: There is no place [for them]. We have the agreement. We have three commitments. One, we will not allow any training ground to be founded on Afghan soil. Secondly, we will not allow any fundraising centers for those who are intending to carry out their own foreign agenda. And we will not allow any recruitment centers for them in Afghanistan. These are the main points of focus. 

A man along with a child ride a bicycle past school girls walking back to their home in Kabul on September 13. Photo:AFP

. Photo:AFP

China's role

GT: How do you evaluate the role that China can play in Afghanistan's future? What kind of cooperation do you think both sides can conduct under the BRI? 

Shaheen: I think, first of all, it is very important in this critical situation that China comes forward and helps the people of Afghanistan and in the humanitarian sector, by providing humanitarian assistance to our people. China can also take part in the construction of Afghanistan and provide assistance in other essential sectors. After this, both countries can then enter into mutually beneficial bilateral agreements which best serve the interests of both countries through mutual respect. 

GT: Some Indian media outlets said cooperation under the BRI is a cause for concern for India. So what's your response?

We are working with other countries in the interest of our country and our people. It is important for us that every relationship we form with other counties is on the basis of our mutual self-interests in order for it to be a win-win situation. This is our policy.

Some of India's concerns aren't appropriate, neither are they plausible. While having ended occupation, we need to focus on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. And now China has come forward to help us with the construction of Afghanistan to create jobs for our people. So what is wrong with that? They, rather than us, should reconsider their position.  

GT: So do you have any plan to invite any high-level diplomats from China and other countries to visit Afghanistan after the new interim government announcement?

We would wish to invite a high-level delegation from China and Russia. We also hope that in the near future, a high-level delegation will visit both Russia and China from Afghanistan, because it is necessary to start new work in the field of cultivating affiliations with regional, neighboring countries. 

GT: Given the current situation, could you elaborate what measures the Taliban have specifically put in place to ensure the safety of the Chinese Embassy in Kabul and Chinese citizens in Afghanistan?

Shaheen: Your embassy and your diplomats are secure. We will provide any kind of security they need. Our security forces will be there to provide security around the clock.

And also, if they have any kind of concern, we are ready to listen and to address them. And secondly, during the time when our forces entered Kabul city, we were in contact with your embassy, and your diplomats were in contact with us around the clock. We provided them with all kind of facilities and assurances when asked to answer their calls. So we had a sort of affiliation with them.

A worker collects newly hand printed Taliban flags in a workshop at the Jawid market in Kabul on September 12. Photo: VCG

A worker collects newly hand printed Taliban flags in a workshop at the Jawid market in Kabul on September 12. Photo: VCG

GT: Some Western countries threatened to impose further sanctions on Afghanistan. So what's your response to further sanctions that may be imposed by the US and other Western countries?

Shaheen: At this crucial time, it would be a kind of injustice against the people of Afghanistan to impose sanctions. While we are turning a new page which is a phase of the construction of Afghan peace, for the people of Afghanistan, they impose sanctions at this critical phase. While around 15 million Afghan people need food and 70 percent of Afghans are living below the poverty line. So, I think it would be a great and blatant injustice to impose sanctions against the people of Afghanistan at this most critical of times. 

GT: Will the Taliban welcome the US and other NATO countries to reopen their embassies in Afghanistan?

Shaheen: We have provided security to all embassies. And we have told them there is no risk to their diplomats and their embassies. We have also called on all countries to tell them that the people of Afghanistan need assistance at this critical time. We have started to govern our country after 20 years of destruction.

So I think it is the moral obligation of Western countries to take part in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. If they do not take part in the process, it means that they do not want to help the people of Afghanistan and their slogans - human rights, humanitarian, these values - are empty slogans. They raise slogans on with one arm, and with the other, work against the very slogan they hold up.