There is chaos and violence at Kabul airport, with deaths reported as Afghans desperately try to leave the country in the wake of the Taliban’s rapid takeover. US troops are in position to facilitate the evacuation of American and other allied civilians and diplomatic staff, including some Afghans, with the military section of the airport secure for now. The UK has acknowledged that some Afghans who worked with Western forces will be left behind.
But while many foreign embassies are shutting down, Russia and China are retaining staff in their diplomatic missions in Kabul. In effect, they are preparing to deal directly with the Taliban on its home turf, while their global rivals walk away.
Russia will only partially evacuate embassy staff in Kabul, and its ambassador, Dmitry Zhirnov, plans to meet Taliban leaders tomorrow (Aug. 17). According to Russian foreign ministry official and presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, the Taliban has secured the Russian compound.
“We will carefully see how responsibly they govern the country in the near future,” Kabulov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station. “And based on the results, the Russian leadership will draw the necessary conclusions.”
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and withdrew a decade later, shortly before the collapse of the USSR. The Taliban then filled the power vacuum. Today, Afghanistan is still a strategic location for Russia, which has a military base in neighboring Tajikistan, Quartz’s Annabelle Timsit reports.
In 1993, after the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan collapsed, China evacuated its embassy in Kabul. This time, China has also made no plans to evacuate embassy staff from Kabul—though earlier in the year it did urge citizens to leave—and has already signaled its willingness to recognize a Taliban government. The idea of “non-interference” is a key plank of Chinese foreign policy; officially it is treating the Taliban takeover as a domestic development.
Late last month China’s foreign minister Wang Yi welcomed a delegation of Taliban representatives, calling the group “a crucial military and political force” in Afghanistan. The meeting struck even some within China as odd, given the country is engaged in an oppressive campaign against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, which it says is intended to battle Islamic extremism. Xinjiang shares a short border with Afghanistan, but the gathering was preceded by a Taliban assurance that it would not allow the country to be used as a base for attacks on China.
On Monday (Aug. 16), a China foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing hopes the Taliban will honor past promises to help establish an “open, inclusive” government.
China is deeply concerned about instability in Afghanistan. It has invested billions of dollars in a port and other infrastructure in neighboring Pakistan as an anchor of its Belt and Road project, which has benefited from the US presence in Afghanistan, argues Kamran Bokhari, national security specialist at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute, in the Wall Street Journal. Chinese companies have also invested in mining in Afghanistan, though these projects haven’t really advanced.