Can China make peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban?

China has stepped up efforts to mediate in the Afghan conflict after US President Donald Trump called off Doha peace talks with the insurgent group in September. Could Beijing’s influence on the Taliban be helpful?

    
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (C) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) along with Afghanistan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (R) answer the press after the 3rd round of China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Foreign Ministers Dialogue in Islamabad

Rival Afghan groups are set to hold talks in China to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire in Afghanistan.

“China has invited a delegation … to participate in the intra-Afghan dialogue,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman in Doha, said on October 22.

The so-called intra-Afghan dialogue is aimed at reconciliation between the Taliban militant group and the Afghan government and has been running parallel to the talks between the insurgents and the US.

But the Taliban said the Afghan government officials would participate in the China talks in an unofficial capacity. The Islamist group does not recognize Afghanistan’s elected government and refers to it as a “US puppet.”

“All participants will be attending the meeting in their personal capacity and they will share their personal opinions for solving the Afghan issue,” Shaheen said.

Taliban negotiators and Afghan officials have held talks in the past.

Read more: Explosion at Afghan mosque kills dozens

The stumbling block

Fresh intra-Afghan talks in China are deemed crucial as peace negotiations have stalled since President Donald Trump abruptly called off US-Taliban talks in Doha last month.

Read more: US-Taliban talks: DW reporters’ firsthand account from Doha

Who are the Taliban and what do they want?

It was a huge setback to Afghan peace efforts as US and Taliban negotiators went very close to agreeing to a deal.

Shaheen told DW in September that the Taliban had reached an agreement with the US in Doha. “We had finalized the document about how the agreement would be implemented … The US president’s tweets took us by surprise. We still don’t understand how the US can call off the deal that took months to negotiate and finalize. This move has undermined the US’ credibility,” Shaheen said.

Read more: Why did President Donald Trump call off Taliban talks?

China and Pakistan have since stepped up efforts to restart talks . Last month, a Taliban delegation met with China’s special representatives for Afghanistan in Beijing.

“China has kept a close eye on the Afghan peace process for years,” Horoon Mir, a Kabul-based Afghan analyst, told DW.

“China enjoys considerable influence on the Taliban through its close ally, Pakistan. Beijing has also established good ties with the Afghan politicians that back negotiations with the insurgent group,” Mir added.

Read more: Afghan Taliban meet with Chinese officials after talks with US collapse

On Friday, representatives from Russia, China, the US and Pakistan agreed in Moscow that negotiations, including an early resumption of direct US talks with the Taliban, are the only way to peace in Afghanistan.

Trump’s cancelled peace talks with the Taliban

Experts say that the differences between the Taliban and Kabul are a major obstacle in achieving a political settlement in Afghanistan. Until these issues are not resolved, talks between Washington and the Taliban can’t be fruitful.

For this reason, if the Chinese government can mediate between Afghanistan’s rival groups, and force them to resolve their issues, the Washington-led talks to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan can resume and be even successful.

“If the Taliban are serious about peace talks, they should talk to the Afghan government,” stressed Mir.

Read more: Will elections settle any of Afghanistan’s problems?

Other reasons for China’s involvement

China shares a short border with Afghanistan to its far-western region of Xinjiang. Beijing has long been worried about links between militant groups operating in Xinjiang, home to the Turkic-speaking mostly Muslim Uighur people.

“China is interested in the Afghan peace process also because of its domestic issues. China is concerned that Uighur insurgents in Xinjiang province are taking advantage of the Afghan conflict,” Jawid Kohistani, an Afghan security analyst in Kabul, told DW.

Analyst Mir is of the view that Beijing is also interested in bringing Afghanistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance created in 2001.

Kohistani also believes that China wants NATO and US forces out of Afghanistan so it could expand its economic influence in the region.

Experts say that more than any other country, there is a greater chance for China to bring all stakeholders to the negotiating table and push for a long-term solution to the 18-year-long Afghan conflict.

Read more: US to reduce troops in Afghanistan by 5,000

Additional reporting by Masood Saifullah.

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