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China offers to mediate in stalled Afghan Taliban peace talks

ISLAMABAD: China offered on Thursday to mediate in stalled efforts to engage the Afghan Taliban in peace negotiations, reflecting its desire to play a more active role in a region it sees as part of its sphere of influence.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the announcement in Islamabad as he arrived in the Pakistani capital on a two-day visit aimed at cementing traditionally warm ties between communist China and conservative Islamic Pakistan.

Afghanistan and its Western backers have been trying to bring moderate Taliban figures to the negotiating table to end years of war in the country. Pakistan is key to the process because of its historic ties to the Taliban leadership.

“We will support the Afghan government in realizing reconciliation with various political factions including the Taliban,” Wang told reporters.

“China is ready to play its constructive role and will provide necessary facilitation at any time if it is required by various parties in Afghanistan.”

China’s relationship with Pakistan, where it is heavily involved in projects including the nuclear sector, is often seen as a counterweight to India’s influence in the region, with Afghanistan a playing field for proxy forces backed by each side.

Officials have informally floated the idea of China taking a more active role in talks but details have been sketchy and it is unclear what leverage China can use to persuade the Taliban to resume meaningful negotiations.

Many Afghan Taliban commanders use the border region with Pakistan as a safe haven.

“I have got a strong sense that Pakistan takes very seriously the issue of Afghanistan and it has a strong will to take a constructive part in the resolution of this matter,” Wang said.

Global powers have tried to breathe life into the stalled talks for years but efforts to engage the Taliban have failed repeatedly. They finally collapsed in 2013 after Taliban representatives angered the Kabul government by trying to open an embassy-style office in Qatar.

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