By Ayaz Gul
ISLAMABAD – China has renewed diplomatic efforts to help facilitate a negotiated end to the conflict in Afghanistan, saying it is ready to hold peace negotiations between warring Afghans.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed peace prospects in phone conversations with his Afghan counterpart, Mohammad Haneef Atmar and National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib, said officials in both countries.
Beijing is increasingly worried the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan will descend the turmoil-hit neighbor into chaos and a sanctuary for Islamist militants.
“China is ready to facilitate internal negotiations among various parties in Afghanistan, including creating necessary conditions for negotiations in China,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted Wang as telling Mohib.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced last month it was time to end the “forever war” in Afghanistan and directed the remaining around 2,500 American soldiers to leave the country by September 11, starting on May 1.
NATO allies are also pulling their roughly 7,000 troops from the country in line with Biden’s decision.
The military drawdown has seen increased fighting between Afghan government forces and Taliban insurgents despite international calls for both warring parties to reduce the violence and negotiate a power-sharing deal to end the country’s long war.
Beijing maintains close contacts with both the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The Afghan adversaries opened direct peace talks in Qatar last September, an outcome of Washington’s troop withdrawal deal with the Taliban signed in February 2020.
But the so-called intra-Afghan peace dialogue has mostly been deadlocked and U.S. efforts to push the two sides to accelerate the process have not succeeded.
In recent days, Wang has increasingly criticized Washington for what he described as the “hasty” U.S. troop pullout, claiming the move has undermined the Afghan peace process and “negatively affected regional stability.”
The chief Chinese diplomat repeated his criticism while speaking to Mohib on Monday, and emphasized the need for moving the peace process forward to “promote a smooth transition” in Afghanistan.
“Although the U.S. unilateral withdrawal of troops at a crucial stage of the Afghan domestic reconciliation process has brought uncertainty to the evolution of the situation in Afghanistan, peace is the trend of the times,” Wang said.
The Chinese foreign minister in his conversation with Afghan counterpart Atmar urged all parties to the conflict to create a “favorable environment” for jumpstarting the peace talks.
“China hopes that Afghanistan’s future leadership will pursue a moderate Muslim policy, promote a foreign policy of peace, maintain friendship with neighboring countries, and firmly combat all forms of terrorism,” Wang said.
The Chinese offer of hosting Afghan peace talks, analysts say, appears to be an attempt to position China for a more active political role in the region after the exit of the U.S.-led Western troops from Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan resolutely fights all forms of terrorism, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and is ready to further deepen counterterrorism and security cooperation with China,” the Chinese statement quoted Mohib as assuring Wang.
An Afghan government statement issued in Kabul said Mohib and Wang “identified terrorism as a common threat that both sides should fight.”
It quoted the Afghan national security advisor as telling the Chinese interlocutor that “all levers of influence” should be used to “induce (the) Taliban” to engage “earnestly” in peace talks.
The ETIM has been outlawed by China as a terrorist group. The Islamist outfit claims it is fighting for the rights of minority Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Chinese officials insist sustained crackdowns on ETIM operatives in the province have “effectively” tackled the security challenge.
The United States, however, accuses China of committing serious human rights abuses against ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of fighting terrorism.
In a coordinated effort this past March, several Western countries, including the U.S., U.K., Canada and the European Union imposed sanctions on Chinese officials connected to the abuses.
China has detained Uyghurs at camps in Xinjiang, where detainees are allegedly subjected to torture, forced labor and sexual abuse, charges Beijing rejects as Western propaganda.