The Taliban delegation is in China for talks with Beijing officials as the insurgents continue a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan, displacing tens of thousands of Afghans.
A top-level Taliban delegation has visited China for talks with Beijing officials, as the insurgents continue a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan – including areas along their shared border.
The two countries' frontier is just 76 kilometres long – and at a rugged high altitude without a road crossing – but Beijing fears Afghanistan could be used as a staging ground for Uighur separatists in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China has been accused of detaining mostly Muslim Uighurs in camps under a mass campaign of political indoctrination and forced cultural assimilation.
The insurgents' spokesperson Mohammad Naeem told AFP those concerns were unfounded.
The Taliban on Wednesday assured Beijing the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for plotting against another country.
"[We] assured China that Afghanistan's soil would not be used against any country's security," Naeem said.
Beijing confirmed the thrust of the talks, which were led on the Chinese side by Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang said China hopes the Taliban will “deal resolutely" with Uighur groups China claims are leading a push the Xinjiang region but which many experts doubt even exists in any operational form.
The visit, which Naeem said was on Beijing's invitation in the northeastern Tianjin municipality, occurred as the US-led NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan nears completion under a recent agreement between the Taliban and Washington signed in the Qatari capital Doha.
“The Taliban are a pivotal military and political force in Afghanistan and are expected to play an important role in the in process of peace, reconciliation and reconstruction," Wang said.
China, Wang said, hopes the Taliban will put the nation's and the people's interests first and focus on peace talks, set peace goals, establish a “positive image" and work for unity among all factions and ethnic groups.
Naeem noted that China had pledged to "continue and expand its cooperation with the Afghan people, saying that they would not interfere in Afghanistan's affairs, but would help solve problems and build peace."
"The Islamic Emirate thanked China for its continued cooperation with the people of Afghanistan, especially its continued cooperation in the fight against Covid-19," Naeem said.
Taliban officials have cranked up their international diplomacy in recent months, seeking global recognition for when they hope to return to power.
They have made sweeping advances across Afghanistan since May, when US-led foreign forces began the last stage of a withdrawal due to be completed next month.
Beijing hosted a Taliban delegation in 2019, but back-door links with the insurgents stretch back longer, through Pakistan.
Communist Party leaders in Beijing and the hardline Taliban have little ideological common ground but experts feel shared pragmatism could see mutual self-interest trump sensitive differences.
For Beijing, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics.
READ MORE: The odd couple: China's deepening relationship with the Taliban
China, a source of investment for Taliban
The Taliban, meanwhile, would consider China a crucial source of investment and economic support.
"China can deal with the Taliban ... but they still find the Taliban's religious agenda and motivations inherently discomforting," Andrew Small, author of "The China–Pakistan Axis", told AFP earlier this month.
Small said they have never been sure how willing or able the Taliban really is to enforce agreements on issues such as allowing in Uighur Muslims whom China sees as a threat.
The Taliban's campaign has so far seen them capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.
Government forces have abandoned some rural districts without a fight, but are digging in to defend provincial capitals even as the insurgents tighten a noose around the cities.
Rights groups have accused the insurgents of committing atrocities in territories under their control, including in the border town of Spin Boldak, where Afghan officials accuse Taliban fighters of killing around 100 civilians.
The nine-member Taliban team in China is led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the hardline movement.
The heads of the Taliban Religious Council and the Propaganda Committee were also on the trip.