No less critical than the forthcoming talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar is China’s directive to the latter on Wednesday to effect what it calls a “clean break” from all terrorist forces, notably the Uighur Muslim militia group known as the ETIM that is fighting for the independence of the volatile Xinjiang province.
The stern caveat is remarkable for its timing ~ barely two months ahead of the US pullout and affording the Taliban a free hand across the AfPak frontier in the absence of Nato forces.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, has underlined the fact that further spread of the strife in Afghanistan, especially an all-out civil war must be avoided.
China has called for the resumption of intra-Afghan negotiations to being about political reconciliation and prevent terrorist forces from gaining ground.
Mr Wang has appealed to the Taliban to return to the mainstream of Afghan politics. He has complimented the government in Kabul, which often accuses Beijing’s “all-weather ally” ~ Pakistan ~ of harbouring Taliban militants.
In the reckoning of Mr Wang, the Afghan government has done a lot of work for national unity, social stability, and improvement of people’s livelihood. China, he said, expects Afghanistan to put in place a broadly inclusive political arrangement, pursue what it calls a “solid Muslim policy”, combat terrorism and extremist ideologies, and be friendly with all neighbouring countries, pre-eminently the two nations on either side of the Radcliffe Line.
Mr Wang’s remarks suggest that he has spelt out the contours of Afghanistan’s domestic and foreign policies, the seemingly intractable Uighur factor being decidedly most sensitive. The voicing of these concerns by China must be viewed in the context of a scramble by regional powers to deal with a possible Taliban takeover of the country.
In parallel to China’s geostrategy, a high-powered Afghanistan government delegation, which will include the head of the country’s reconciliation council, will meet the Taliban in Qatar very shortly. The Taliban is expected to bring its senior leaders to the table when the two sides meet.
The renewed push to reach a peace deal comes as the United States winds down its military presence in Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters have taken control of large swathes of the country. Although the exact number of districts now under its control is not known, it is believed they now rule in more than a third of Afghanistan’s 421 districts and district centres.
The Doha talks will be led by the senior government official, Abdullah Abdullah, who heads Afghanistan’s Reconciliation Council. Former President Hamid Karzai is also expected to be among the delegates.
The negotiations are aimed at ending the violence that has steadily increased since the US signed a deal with the Taliban in February last year. Karzai has called on the government not to miss the opportunity and press ahead towards peace.