ISLAMABAD: An Afghan Taliban delegation is visiting Beijing for talks with Chinese officials just days ahead of the group’s seventh round of talks with US officials in Qatar, a former Taliban spokesman told Arab News on Sunday.
China has played an increasingly active role in the Afghan peace process, alongside Russia and the US.
In April, the three countries pressed the Taliban to hold talks with Afghan politicians and civilians as an important step to end the 17-year conflict.
Abdul Hai Mutmayen, who was the Taliban’s chief spokesman in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, said the head of the group’s political office, Abdul Ghani Baradar, is leading the delegation in Beijing.
“It seems that Taliban leaders are making efforts to hold consultations and exchange their views with key stakeholders ahead of the next round. The visit is an indication that the seventh round is important,” Mutmayen added.
China has offered to host intra-Afghan talks if all sides agree to such a role, but has ruled out being a mediator.
Taliban officials have said they could accept China as a guarantor if they reach a peace deal with the US.
In 2015, China hosted a secret meeting between the Taliban and Afghan government officials, said former Taliban Minister Mullah Abdul Jalil.
Abrar Hussain, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, told Arab News on Sunday that China’s involvement in peace efforts is economically and politically motivated.
“China’s interest in Afghan peace ... will lead to the withdrawal of foreign troops and bring economic opportunities, so China has been hosting informal meetings for this purpose,” he said.
With the withdrawal of foreign troops top of the Taliban’s agenda going into the next round of talks with the US, the group’s political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told Arab News that the ball is in America’s court.
“They (the US) will decide the date (of a troop withdrawal), and they should decide an appropriate timetable with our consent. We’ll talk about the internal aspect of the problem if the external aspect is settled,” he said.
Mohammed Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, told Arab News: “China wants peace in Afghanistan but it has apprehensions. If the US leaves Afghanistan in haste, stability in Afghanistan and the region will further deteriorate, and China will have to take responsibility to fix the issue.”