Regional Neighbours Navigate Afghan Relationship One Year Post-Taliban Takeover

After Western withdrawal, China steps in . . . 

One year after U.S., Canadian and allied forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban have largely consolidated their rule over the country but now preside over a major humanitarian crisis and an economy in freefall. Major regional neighbours have stepped in to engage the Taliban and help fill some of the gap left by the departure of Western financing. Most notably, China has become one of Kabul’s primary partners, pledging over C$47 million in humanitarian aidand offering to include Afghanistan in major investment projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Chinese investors and entrepreneurs have become a significant presence in Afghanistan’s mining sector, a fledgling industry with enormous potential given the country’s mineral abundance. 

India and Pakistan actions differ . . .

Meanwhile, the fraught relationship between India and the Taliban has changed dramatically since the Taliban takeover. New Delhi has partially reopened its embassy in Kabul and engaged in talks with Taliban officials on counterterrorism and humanitarian aid, including urgently needed wheat imports and vaccines. The Taliban has also appealed to India to open trade channels and restart shuttered Indian development projects in Afghanistan valued in the billions of dollars. Pakistan, who has long engaged and occasionally supported the Taliban, has contributed roughly C$1.3 billion worth of humanitarian aid since last year. But their relationship has been tested by Afghanistan’s harbouring of the Pakistani Taliban. Though the Afghan Taliban has been facilitating peace talks between the Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad, increasing cross-border attacks on Pakistani soldiers will likely generate friction that could complicate bilateral relations.

Whither Afghanistan and regional cooperation?

Western countries remain some of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan despite their withdrawal, with Canada pledging C$144 million in 2022 alone. However, aid agencies are also blaming Western sanctions and freezing Afghan central bank assets for hampering the ability of much of the aid to reach those who need it. Regional neighbours such as China, India, and Pakistan, who have not joined these sanctions, have thus become crucial partners for the Taliban. But their support and infrastructure proposals remain tentative. Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad continue to be skeptical of the Taliban’s promise that they would not host non-state actors who could launch attacks on their territories.