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Beijing’s support for Taliban is dividing Chinese social media

China wants to deal with Taliban but Weibo trends after Kabul attack show mood’s changing.

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The attack outside the Kabul airport has brought Taliban’s actions into sharp focus on Chinese social media.

Though the Chinese State media have relatively toned down their support for the Taliban, the narrative of doing business with a Taliban-led Afghanistan still dominates the news cycle.

A new page was recently set up for Afghan Taliban on Wikipedia’s Chinese equivalent Baike Baidu. Previously, a generic entry under the category “Taliban” had existed.

Global People Magazine – a sister concern of People’s Daily – put the Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada on the cover of its September edition.

“In recent days, the Taliban have also made continuous commitments to promote equal treatment of other religions, respect for women and no longer promote hatred of the West” says the cover story on Taliban.

But the Taliban’s recent actions have fomented discussion on Chinese social media.

Also read: India talks to Taliban leader Stanikzai for ‘early return’ of those stuck in Afghanistan

What’s trending on Weibo

The hashtag “Taliban says Afghan men and women will be educated in separate classes” became a topic of discussion on Weibo. “Afghan Taliban will end secularism taking Afghanistan back to the dark ages” said Zhang Yixua, a prominent Weibo user.

Despite the gory acts by the Taliban, some Chinese social media users have tried to defend the Afghan militia’s policy over segregation of men and women in schools. “If the textbooks are the same, I think this is more in line with their national conditions at present” said a Weibo user justifying Taliban’s decision.

“The scary thing is that some netizens have started justifying the actions” said another Weibo user.

“Afghanistan has always divided classes for men and women. It has nothing to do with the Taliban. It does not mean that men and women are divided into classes to receive education. It does not mean that it is unfair. It should be based on religion. And now, the division of men and women’s classes is more conducive to protecting women,” said a user justifying Taliban’s policy.

“The Afghan female presenter who interviewed Taliban has gone abroad” was the second leading trend on Weibo. Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand fled the country after receiving threatening messages from the Taliban.

China’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Yue Xiaoyong, who was interviewed by GuanchaNews while he was in Islamabad said: “Moreover, if you look at South Asia, from Iran to South Asia, Pakistan and other countries, they are also considering how to use the cooperation of countries in the region and their cooperation with China. For example, in Pakistan, we jointly built the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. I heard another special envoy tell me that they are actively considering how to promote the development of this economic corridor and share its benefits with Afghanistan” said the Chinese envoy.

“I sincerely hope that relevant parties and the Taliban can effectively fight the “Eastern Turkestan Movement”. The “Eastern Turkestan Movement” has committed many crimes, including crimes against China and Chinese citizens,” said Yue Xiaoyong.

Also read: Why US drone strikes against ISKP in Afghanistan smack of ‘secret help’ from Pakistan

Opinion divided

A nationalist sentiment over China’s support for Taliban has created fissures on social media.

Jalal Bazwan, an Afghan who has blogged in Chinese on Weibo in 2014, was attacked for criticizing the Taliban. Jalal has over 30,000 followers on Weibo, and he has tried explaining Taliban’s origins and ideology to the Chinese social media users.

“Chinese people strongly believe in the conventional wisdom that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” So they think Taliban are enemy of America and America is out there harming China, so why would somebody come and talk against Taliban. But they don’t know the complex relations of America and the Taliban” Bazwan told Bloomberg in an interview.

The images of US forces’ withdrawal have generated tremendous interest among the Chinese public on social media – including a feeling of schadenfreude.

“Taliban fired shots to celebrate US withdrawal” was the fifth trend on Baidu. Chinese State media have mocked the US withdrawing its service dogs, ignoring the Americans giving airplane seats to Afghan nationals.

The attack on the Kabul airport has stirred further the debate — can China stabilise Afghanistan to do business with the region as proposed by the government? The issue of terrorism still looms large on the China-Taliban relationship.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has voiced his concern over future terrorist activity in Afghanistan.

“Facts once again proved that the war in Afghanistan did not achieve the goal of eliminating terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. The US and NATO’s hasty withdrawal of troops is likely to provide opportunities for various terrorist organizations to make a comeback” Yi told US Secretary of State during a phone call.

“Furthermore, when it comes to fighting the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the United States and even the West as a whole may not actually be sincere in doing this, and it is precisely only the Taliban that will actually do it,” said current affairs commentator Song Zhongping on Phoenix Television. Chinese experts have voiced support for the Taliban for fighting the threat of ISKP.

“Afghanistan has gained benefits and early gains from the “Belt and Road” initiative. In the future, China will continue to uphold the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind, promote the connectivity between Afghanistan and the region, and help Afghanistan give full play to its geographical advantages, so that the Afghan people will gain more well-being,” said China’s ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu. Wang Yu recently met a Taliban delegation at the Chinese embassy in Kabul.

There is a sense of joy among some Chinese social media users over the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. But the recent spate of attacks in Kabul and the Taliban’s policies have added doubts on Taliban’s place in the future of Afghanistan.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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