ISLAMABAD: An Afghan Taliban delegation visited China earlier this month to “explore prospects” for Beijing’s role on restarting the political dialogue, sources in the Taliban said.
Afghan government sources too said the visit was “directly linked” to the peace talks.
A four-member delegation led by Sher Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, visited Beijing on July 18-22 at the invitation of the Chinese government, a spokesman for a dissident group told The Express Tribune.
“I can confirm that our delegation had visited China to discuss matters between both countries,” a senior Taliban leader told The Express Tribune while requesting anonymity.
“They discussed the invasion in the region [of Afghanistan] and to adopt a joint stance against the malicious policies of the invading forces.”
The visit comes weeks after the Afghan Taliban had refused to take part in the peace process under the four-nation bloc which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and China.
“Policies of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) about the region and the world also came under discussion,” the leader said, adding that they wanted help of the Chinese leadership to raise these issues on world forums and help get freedom from occupying forces.
While the Taliban leader did not comment on whether the subject of peace talks were discussed, but sources familiar with the visit said both sides “explored prospects” on restarting the dialogue process.
Both the Afghan government and the Taliban consider China’s role in the talks to be acceptable.
An Afghan government source said Kabul is “ok with China playing a role” in the talks. “China has been cleared for the role already,” the source told The Express Tribune.
Some sources confided that Pakistan, which “pushes the Taliban to come to the negotiation table”, had facilitated the visit.
Qari Hamza, a spokesman for the dissident ‘Fidaye Mahaz’ group, claimed that Taliban leaders met with officials from China, US and other foreign countries during the four-day visit.
This is not the first time Taliban officials have visited Beijing or have held talks with Chinese officials. Representatives of the group first visited Beijing in November 2014. Officials from both sides again met in May 2015.
In November 2015, China offered to host talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government but had refused to ‘mediate’ the peace process.
The peace process initiated by the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which includes China, hit an impasse when the talks with the Taliban broke down after the US targeted the group’s leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in Pakistan on May 21, 2016.
China has long been concerned that instability in Afghanistan will spill over into the violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang, where hundreds have died in recent years in unrest blamed by Beijing on Islamist extremists.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2016.