Neighbors’ role vital for helping Afghans

Pakistan and China notable for their support, especially during food crisis

An Afghan school girl paints an anti-narcotics message on a bridge during a painting festival in Herat, Afghanistan, Nov. 12, 2010. (REZA SHIRMOHAMMADI, FILE / AP)

A visit this week by Afghanistan's acting foreign minister to Pakistan-the first country to host a delegation from the Taliban authorities-underscores the importance of the war-torn nation's neighbors, including China, in efforts to help the Afghan people.

Amir Khan Muttaqi and his high-level delegation arrived in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Wednesday, and are scheduled to leave on Friday.

A day earlier, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, sketched out the problems facing Afghanistan at a news briefing.

"The Afghan people are undergoing very tough economic challenges," Hussain said. "The primary reason for Afghanistan's present situation is that the assets of the country have been seized."

Despite international calls for the United States to unfreeze the Afghan assets it held before the country withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, the US has disregarded the humanitarian needs of the people, many of whom are going hungry across Afghanistan, observers say.

In a statement, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said bilateral exchanges "will center on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations with a particular focus inter alia on enhanced trade, facilitation of transit trade, cross-border movement, land and aviation links, people-to-people contacts, and regional connectivity".

Pakistan and China have been assisting Afghan people over recent months.

Hussain said Pakistan will send rice and wheat across the border to help Afghanistan cope with its food crisis. The government also is setting up a fund to address the food shortages, the minister said.

At a media briefing in Doha on Oct 26 after talks with Taliban senior officials, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said a working-level mechanism was being set up to advance bilateral exchanges.

Humanitarian assistance

On Sept 29, the first batch of humanitarian assistance from China arrived in Kabul. That month, China said it would urgently provide Afghanistan with 200 million yuan ($30.96 million) worth of assistance, mostly food, materials for winter, medicines and COVID-19 vaccines. It was also announced that the first 3 million doses of the vaccines would be donated.

In another encouraging development, Afghanistan on Oct 31 resumed exports of pine nuts to China, a Taliban spokesman said. Some 45 tons of the nuts were flown to Shanghai the following day, marking the first Afghan exports to China since the Taliban took over Kabul in August.

While recognition of the Taliban government might not be on the cards for some countries, observers say that economic engagement with Afghanistan's leaders is vital.

Scholar Amina Khan said the contacts between China and Afghanistan indicate that economic assistance for Afghans need not be paired with political engagement.

"China, along with regional countries, is advocating for economic assistance before having the political attachments, and I think this is a very wise policy," said Khan, director of the Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

Neighboring countries no longer stand on the sidelines of the Afghan issue, as they are unwilling to see the humanitarian situation worsen, Khan said.

On Afghanistan, there is a growing understanding in the international community that China is considered the "one credible and balanced player" in terms of influence, she said.

Salman Bashir, a former foreign secretary of Pakistan and former ambassador to China, said China's reaching out to the new government in Kabul is appropriate and in line with China's adherence to the principle of respect for sovereignty.

"China as an immediate neighbor of Afghanistan continues to play a constructive role to promote socio-economic development, stability and peace in Afghanistan and the region," he said.

On Tuesday, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, was quoted by the Press TV network as saying that cooperation among regional countries to counter security challenges across the region is important.

"Although the United States has been expelled from Afghanistan after 20 years of aggression and occupation, it continues to cause crises in the region as part of its tension-creating strategy," he said.

Khan said the US and European nations created a great mess in Afghanistan. "It is time for them to play their role, a responsible role," she said.

Xinhua contributed to the story.