Conclusion of Trilateral Meeting in Islamabad: More Drama than Diplomacy
By: Amin Kawa
The Foreign Ministers of China, Pakistan, and the Taliban recently concluded a trilateral meeting in Islamabad focused on counter-terrorism, trade, and regional connectivity. During the meeting, the participants committed to achieving their common interests through a “win-win situation.” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) expressed enthusiasm for advancing joint regional cooperation under the trilateral framework in a brief statement. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China stated that the Afghan people face severe challenges and require urgent support and assistance from the international community. China has urged increased engagement with the Taliban and appealed to the world to encourage the group to form an inclusive and moderate government, cultivate friendly relations with neighboring countries, and combat terrorism. The acting foreign minister of the Taliban met with senior security officials and leaders of political groups supporting the Taliban in Islamabad. However, a prominent Pakistani politician considered the Taliban illegitimate and claimed that their presence in Islamabad demonstrated that they were “Made in Pakistan.”
On May 7, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Pakistan issued a concise statement announcing that it had hosted the fifth trilateral dialogue involving the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan, and the Taliban. The participants held constructive discussions on political participation, counterterrorism, trade, and regional connectivity. Pakistan expressed its eagerness to see progress on the joint agenda for trilateral cooperation in the region.
The foreign ministers of China, Pakistan, and the Taliban held a trilateral meeting in Islamabad, with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari chairing the session. The meeting covered regional security, counterterrorism, trade, and investment and included discussions among Qin Gang, the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan.
According to Ferdaws Kawish, a prominent Afghan journalist, speaking to the Hasht-e Subh Daily, China has security interests in its relationship with the Taliban. Initially, it was thought that the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan would enable China to undertake significant economic projects in the country. However, after ISIS attacked the Chinese embassy in Kabul, it became apparent that China is relatively threatened by the expansion of ISIS activities and the association of Uyghur jihadists with this group. In response, China has increased its interaction with the Taliban regime and resumed the trilateral talks process between Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan, which was active during the Republic regime.
Pakistan’s Position in the Trilateral Meeting
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Pakistan confirmed that the trilateral meeting between Pakistan, China, and the Taliban was productive. The statement reveals that Pakistan and China jointly encouraged the Taliban to establish an environment conducive to political participation and to collaborate in counterterrorism efforts, boost trade, and regional connectivity. Moreover, Pakistan expressed its eagerness to expedite the joint agenda for regional cooperation under the trilateral framework (China, Pakistan, and the Taliban).
According to reports in Pakistani media, during the trilateral talks, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, stressed the significance of “peace and stability in Afghanistan.” Mr. Zardari emphasized that he views stability in Afghanistan as essential for the socioeconomic advancement of the region. The media also reported that the Foreign Minister pledged to collaborate closely with all parties, including China, to achieve socioeconomic development in the region.
During a joint press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Islamabad on May 7, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister emphasized the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan for the region’s social-economic development and connectivity. He stated that Pakistan will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and united Afghanistan.
China’s Position in the Trilateral Meeting
During a press conference, Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, stated that the international community should increase dialogue and contact with the interim government of Afghanistan (the Taliban), support their reconstruction and development efforts, encourage them to establish an inclusive and moderate government, develop friendly relations with their neighbors, and fight terrorism. The statement also expressed hope that trilateral talks among the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan, and the Taliban would help to strengthen mutual trust and provide joint assistance for peace, stability, development, and prosperity in the region.
On Saturday, May 6, during the fourth round of strategic talks between the foreign ministers of China and Pakistan in Islamabad, it was announced that Afghanistan has been included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. They also agreed to provide economic and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan by developing projects in the CPEC.
The Taliban’s Position in the Trilateral Meeting
Details of the trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Pakistan, China, and the Taliban have not been made public. The meeting took place behind closed doors, but official statements from the foreign ministries of the three parties have indicated that regional security, trade enhancement, and counter-terrorism were on the agenda. Additionally, Zia Ahmad Takal, the Deputy Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Taliban, tweeted that their foreign minister had discussed “important political, commercial, economic, and transit issues” with their Pakistani counterpart. However, Amir Khan Muttaqi’s visit, the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban, was controversial.
Side Meetings of Muttaqi’s Trip and Pakistani Politicians’ Reactions
During his four-day visit to Islamabad, the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban, Amir Khan Muttaqi, met with several figures from Pakistani Pashtun parties, including Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), who is known for being the spiritual father of the Taliban. However, a tweet by Mohsin Dawar, a parliamentarian and the leader of the National Democratic Movement of Pakistan, showed a photo of the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban with the leaders of Pakistani political movements and warned that “The identity of Pashtuns is in danger.” Dawar asserted that Pashtun nationalists have always distinguished themselves from the Taliban and that sacrificing resistance to terrorism for political reasons is not valid because the Pashtun identity is at risk.
Afrasiab Khattak, a Pakistani politician, tweeted that the Taliban’s semi-military regime, appointed by General Faiz [Hameed] in September 2021, has failed to gain legitimacy in Afghanistan. Khattak further said that the Taliban’s recent efforts in Islamabad make them appear as a “Made in Pakistan” organization and that the Pashtun People’s Peace Uprising in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has rejected the Taliban and its supporters.
During their four-day trip, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban, and his delegation met with a number of Pakistani religious leaders, most of whom are teachers at the Darul Uloom Haqqania. Zia Ahmad Takal, The Deputy Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Taliban, released a video clip showing one of the Pakistani clerics embracing Muttaqi tightly and gently stroking his hand over his face as a sign of affection.
Amir Khan Muttaqi’s Meeting with the Commander of the Pakistani Army
During his visit to Islamabad, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban, met with General Asim Munir, the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan. The Deputy Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Taliban tweeted that they had comprehensive discussions on regional security issues and the facilitation of the movement of Afghan migrants. The Pakistani army also stated that they discussed the need to increase cooperation between the two neighbors to effectively combat the common challenges of terrorism and extremism. It has been reported that the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban appreciated Pakistan’s traditional support for the people of Afghanistan and the important role of Pakistan in facilitating peace and development in Afghanistan during the meeting. The Taliban expressed their desire for close cooperation with Pakistan to enhance stability and prosperity in the region.
Muttaqi has traveled to Pakistan with the permission of the United Nations Security Council
After receiving approval from the United Nations Security Council, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban, has traveled to Islamabad. He has been subjected to UN sanctions, which include travel bans, asset freezes, and arms embargoes. Pakistan requested a travel permit for Muttaqi from the 15-member committee on Taliban sanctions in the UN Security Council, and it was granted from May 6th to May 9th so that he could “meet with foreign ministers of Pakistan and China.”
When did the Trilateral Meeting begin?
The first trilateral meeting of foreign ministers from China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan was hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China on December 26, 2017, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Wang Yi, the Former Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, chaired the meeting which was attended by Salahuddin Rabbani, the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, and Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan.
The focus of the meeting was on security issues that had previously prompted high-ranking Pakistani officials to travel to Afghanistan. The increasing threat of terrorism in the region and the growing activities of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) had drawn the attention of the Pakistani Defense Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister to Kabul. Previously, these officials had visited Kabul at the head of high-level government delegations and held talks with Taliban officials. Muttaqi’s current visit to Pakistan is facing significant reactions among citizens, with some suggesting that China and Pakistan, as the Taliban’s main allies in the region, have reassured them after the group’s exclusion from the Doha Meeting. However, security analysts believe that the Taliban have not been able to respond positively to the security concerns of regional countries during this time, and therefore, China has called for increased international interaction with the Taliban due to the growing regional threats.