China seeks greater role in Afghanistan with peace talk push


China has proposed setting up a forum to restart the stalled peace talks between Afghanistan and Taliban insurgents, the latest sign Beijing wants more say in its troubled neighbour’s affairs as it frets about its own militant threat in Xingjian.

Documents show that China put forward a proposal for a “peace and reconciliation forum” that Afghan officials said would gather representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the Taliban command.

The Chinese plan, discussed at a recent meeting of nations taking part in the “Istanbul Process” on Afghanistan’s future, comes as US-led combat troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan after 13 years of war.

Despite the military’s efforts to rout the Taliban and al Qaeda, militants remain a major force, launching regular attacks on military and civilian targets, and previous attempts to bring them into the political mainstream have failed.

There is little to suggest so far that China will succeed where others have not, but its willingness to revive a bid to broker peace previously attempted by the United States indicates its role in Afghanistan is growing.

China’s proposal has not yet been formally announced because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants more time to see whether the Taliban and Pakistan are willing to join in, according to his aides.

“This was a very, very important first step,” said Daoud Sultanzoy, a former presidential candidate and now adviser to Ghani. “Once all the pieces are in place… at a mature and opportune time there will be declarations.”

China says it is not seeking to fill a void left by the US year-end withdrawal, and it already has a footprint in Afghanistan with financial support for counter-narcotics training and agreements to exploit oil and copper reserves.