Analysis: a diet under another name

File photo of Taliban forces patrolling outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2, 2021 Reuters

Imagine breaking the news to the spokesperson for the last newly formed government in the world. As he presented his foreign policy agenda, the spokesperson said, “China is our most important partner, representing a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us.”

So far, so banal. But this is not just any new regime that speaks of a partnership shared by the entire developing region of the world.

These words are from Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid. And the partnership he happily refers to is not with another Islamic country, but with credible accusations of massive and pervasive persecution of its own small Muslim population which includes mass incarceration, displacement and forced “re-education”. .

So, if an iconic figure of a deeply indoctrinated Islamic republic is now the best friend of a nascent superpower that has committed “cultural genocide” against Muslims, what does she say about the state of other Islamic regimes? And more importantly, how does Bangladesh shape a foreign policy to engage with an Islamic state that doesn’t seem to really care about Muslims of a different fabric?

The answer is quite clear: we must stop seeing the Taliban as brand ambassadors of Draconian Islam, and more as representatives of regimes that want to cling to power with all the means to which they have access. In short, sustainability trumps ideology for the Taliban, something very familiar to the once-vaunted poster child of communism.

The Taliban’s relationship with China is akin to what so many other countries very different from the Taliban have already experienced: On a spectrum ranging from “calculated” indifference to strategic involvement, China offers the United States. Afghanistan exactly what a resource-poor, civil-war-torn country is. with a deeply controversial regime in power right now needs: unconditional money.

Honestly, the Taliban certainly did not start Afghanistan’s love affair with Chinese funds and the “look the other way” approach to human rights. Since its inception in 2014, the Government of National Unity (NUG) led by the now ousted President Ashraf Ghani has long advocated for a greater role for China in Afghan economic growth, especially in infrastructure. Equally important, Ghani wanted to use the “Chinese card” as leverage against Pakistan.

Contemporary engagement in Afghanistan is no different from what began decades ago. The videos released by the Taliban government are as much about building ravaged roads, rebuilding bombed-out bridges and infrastructure, and establishing phone lines and the Internet, as they are about making sure universities don’t buy into it. than homosexual classes. As the world watches and decides to contact the Taliban, Chinese power companies have already submitted several offers to help rebuild Afghanistan.

So, as far as China is concerned, the chronic instability that has pervaded Afghanistan for decades will certainly work to its advantage both in expanding its markets for Chinese products and establishing its nascent ambition of regional connectivity to fuel and support the kind of economic growth needed. to fuel its candidacy for world hegemony.

As India, the United States and Bangladesh balk at engaging with the Taliban, China is leading the way in cementing a relationship that has decades-old roots. Their engagement with the Taliban is a golden opportunity to fill the void left in the region by the United States and to flex their muscles not only economically, but in terms of “soft power” and to establish a cultural ascendancy. Going to bed with a strict Islamic government conjures up strong images against the kind of opprobrium it attracts for its national anti-Muslim actions. Sino-Afghan relations are winners for both, in every aspect of the relationship.

For a predominantly Muslim country like Bangladesh, where thousands of people have celebrated Afghanistan’s “independence” and not just with statuses on social media but actually with their feet while traveling in Afghanistan, the Sino relationship -afghane has a strong message. Bangladeshi security agencies are rightly concerned that many extremists have left for Kabul to aid the Taliban. Dhaka counterterrorism units had arrested at least four suspected terrorists who wanted to be trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Concerns about terrorism are of course concrete and real, at least in the short term. But over time, the ideological mantle worn by the Taliban will gradually peel off to become that of the dresses worn by commercialism and pragmatism.

Consider the role played by the Middle East by the government of Bangladesh. Long seen as a puritanical purveyor of Islam and not just an importer of cheap Bangladeshi labor, countries like Saudi Arabia have changed course since 9/11 and the realization that oil stocks are much more limited and the world is slowly wiping out its biggest source of funds.

Bangladesh is also no longer the poor developing country, and for the Saudis to have any influence on the hearts and minds of 160 million Sunnis, they must see Bangladesh as a trading partner, and not just export the country. Wahhabi ideology. If the Saudis can shed their ideological skin, why not Afghanistan.

The Sino-Afghan relationship provides a lens through which the world can see the role of the Afghan Taliban. It is true that for a country like Bangladesh, the Taliban will imbue a certain quarter of our population with extremism. This should not be taken lightly. Their poor human rights record, especially against women and minorities, should not be overlooked either.

Any kind of leverage we have to make the lives of Afghan women and minorities better and safer should be used. But to ossify the Taliban as an extremist group with no understanding of global politics or the economic needs of their own country would be to ignore the evidence before us. If a Sharia-guided Puritan regime can also behave like any other newly formed regime guided by commercialism and pure survival instincts, and be wooed not by divine blessings but with hard cash, our interactions with them should also be multifaceted and multifaceted.

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