KABUL, Afghanistan –
The Taliban Wednesday hailed China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan with fanfare, saying his arrival is a sign for other nations to come forward and establish relations with them.
The Taliban seized power in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO forces withdrew after two decades of war. Their leaders are under sanctions and no country recognizes them as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers. The country’s seat at the United Nations is still held by the former Western-backed government that was led by Ashraf Ghani.
Only a handful of nations have working diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, including China, the world’s second-largest economy. The two sides have been open about their desire for closer ties, especially commercial ones.
Ambassador Zhao Sheng’s car swept through the tree-lined driveway of the Presidential Palace escorted by a police convoy. He was greeted by uniformed troops and met top-ranking Taliban officials, including Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who heads the administration, and Foreign Affairs Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
It is the first time since the Taliban takeover that an ambassador to Kabul has been afforded such lavish protocol.
Muttaqi said the two countries had special ties and that Zhao’s nomination was a “significant step with a significant message.” He did not elaborate further.
The Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told The Associated Press that it is tradition for new ambassadors to present their credentials to the head of the country.
“It also signals to other countries to come forward and interact with the Islamic Emirate,” said Mujahid. “We should establish good relations as a result of good interactions and, with good relations, we can solve all the problems that are in front of us or coming in the future.”
He did not answer questions on what Zhao’s presence meant for the Taliban’s demand for official recognition.
The international community, wary of the Taliban’s rule when they were last in power more than 20 years ago, has withheld official recognition and Afghanistan’s assets abroad have been frozen.