The China-­Pakistan-­Afghanistan Triangle

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The China-­Pakistan-­Afghanistan Triangle

The dynamics of this trilateral relationship will shape the future trajectory of Afghanistan and its broader implications for regional stability and prosperity.

The China-­Pakistan-­Afghanistan Triangle

In this handout photo released by the Taliban Prime Minister Media Office, China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan Zhao Sheng meets with Taliban Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund during the recognition ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 13, 2023.

Credit: Taliban Prime Minister Media Office via AP

The intricate nexus between China, Pakistan, and Taliban-led Afghanistan has garnered considerable attention as these actors maneuver through a complex web of security concerns, diverging interests, and geopolitical pressures. From a security standpoint, both China and Pakistan view Afghanistan as a critical security buffer against the proliferation of threats and extremist activities into their respective territories. As a result, they have identified the Taliban, who have consolidated power and control in most parts of Afghanistan, as the best bet for safeguarding their interests.

The Taliban, however, have not been delivering well on their promise to combat terror groups, and their overtures to expand ties with other regional actors signify a desire to counterbalance Beijing’s and Islamabad’s influence. While each party seeks to advance its own agenda, the dynamics of this trilateral relationship will shape the future trajectory of Afghanistan and its broader implications for regional stability and prosperity.

Overall, China’s proactive engagement with the Taliban is occurring alongside Pakistan’s growing disillusionment with the Taliban, impacting the prospects for trilateral cooperation.

China: A Pragmatic Friend

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021, Beijing has been the first mover in many aspects in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and political alignment: the first to provide humanitarian aid, the first to ink large investment deals, the first to appoint a new ambassador to Kabul, and the first to formally accept a Taliban ambassador.

China has indeed positioned itself as a valuable partner to the Taliban, one that is willing to aid the war-torn country’s development and a credible source to help the regime to attain international and political legitimacy. Diplomatically, Beijing has been acting like an interlocutor, watching out for the Taliban on international platforms, urging the easing of sanctions and asset freezes, and leveraging its veto power at the United Nations Security Council in benefit of the Taliban-led administration. 

In late January 2024, when Chinese President Xi Jinping accepted the credentials of Bilal Karimi, a former Taliban spokesperson, as Afghanistan’s envoy to China in a formal ceremony, many observers interpreted it as Beijing’s de facto formal recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. This was quickly undermined by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose spokesperson claimed the ceremony was a routine affair. 

The ministry also reminded the world that China harbors the same expectations as the international community that the Taliban regime must form an inclusive administration with non-Taliban and non-Pashtun factions and fight terrorism before formal recognition can be considered.