China has reportedly become the second nation after Russia to accept the credentials of a Taliban “diplomat” since the Taliban terrorist group took over Afghanistan in August, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said on Monday.

Russian officials confirmed last week that Moscow accepted a Taliban envoy to serve as de facto ambassador, bringing the Sunni terrorist organization one step closer to official recognition as a state power. The Russian news agency Tass reported on Monday that the Afghan embassy in Moscow would soon have an official Taliban “charge d’affairs.”

No country around the world has formally embraced the Taliban — which calls itself the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — as a legitimate government, but China and Russia are among a growing number building closer economic and political ties with the group. The United Nations also approved cooperation with the Taliban last week in a resolution that referred to it only as a group of “relevant Afghan political actors.” China hosted a meeting of “neighboring countries” (including Taliban ally Qatar) last week to discuss how to best approach the Taliban’s status. Muttaqi participated in a formal capacity.

The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamist gang, ran Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when the U.S. military invaded the country and ousted it. After 20 years, the Taliban returned to power in August 2021 following President Joe Biden’s decision to break an agreement brokered by the administration of President Donald Trump that would have ended the war in May. Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as Taliban jihadis encircled the national capital, Kabul, leaving no significant challenge to the Taliban’s status as government of Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Muttaqi told reporters while in China on Monday that the Communist Party had agreed to follow Russia’s example and grant a Taliban representative formal diplomatic accreditation. Reports in Afghan media did not indicate that the Communist Party had agreed to formally accept the Taliban as the legal government of Afghanistan, though Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has referred to the Taliban as the “interim government” of Afghanistan.

Last week, Wang told reporters that the “diplomatic recognition of the Afghan government will be an act of following the natural course,” referring to the Taliban.

“Talking to journalists in China, Amir Khan Muttaqi expressed gratitude for China’s humanitarian assistance and allowing Afghan crops and products to the country while thanking the country for hosting a meeting of Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministers,” the Afghan news agency Khaama Press reported.

The Taliban’s official news network, Bakhtar, published video of Muttaqi’s comments, in which he also expressed “hope” that Afghanistan would become a wealthy regional trade hub and that Afghans would stop trying to flee the country. The Taliban has made limiting migration out of the country a priority since taking over in August — enthusiastically encouraging Afghans to stay and help with the economy and infrastructure, reportedly seizing passports from Afghan-Americans to prevent them from leaving, and blocking locals from Kabul’s international airport.

Muttaqi reportedly described the Taliban’s new public policy as “economy-oriented and balanced” and claimed the Taliban believes that all Afghans “have the right to a peaceful and free life.”

Reports from within Afghanistan present a stark contrast to the “inclusive” image the Taliban has been promoting to the world since returning to power. Shortly after seizing Kabul, Taliban jihadist leaders replaced the Women’s Ministry with the “Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” a staple of fundamentalist Islamic societies that serves to terrorize and abuse civilians who act in perceived violation of sharia, or the Islamic law. Taliban spokespeople have published videos of mass confiscation and destruction of alcohol to prevent its consumption. “Virtue Ministry” officials have installed checkpoints in the capital to stop cars and threaten residents to grow out beards, wear Islamic veils, and otherwise keep to the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia.

That reality has not prevented warming ties between the Taliban and China and Russia. The Tass news agency named Taliban “diplomat” Jamal Garwal on Monday as the likely “charge d’affairs” of the Afghan embassy in Moscow, noting parenthetically that the Taliban is still a designated terrorist organization “outlawed” in Russia.

“Garwal will take the position of Afghanistan’s charge d’affairs in Moscow within days,” an anonymous source told Tass.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had already confirmed the accreditation of a Taliban diplomat last week.

“We are convinced that the international community should actively cooperate with Afghanistan’s new government, encouraging steps aimed at its official recognition by the UN and all its participants,” Lavrov said while attending the meeting on Afghanistan in Anhui province, China. Lavrov also reportedly praised the Taliban for progress on “human rights.”

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is legally barred from full and open contact with the Taliban given its terrorist status, leaving open-ended how the bilateral relations between Kabul and Moscow will work. Putin said in October that he was considering stripping the Taliban of that designation, but has yet to do so.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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