China to pick Afghan Taliban as political force: envoy

PESHAWAR: Chinese Ambassador in Islamabad Yao Jing has said that his country will “pick Afghan Taliban as a political force” in the backdrop of their participation in the ongoing peace talks with the US and at other forums.

Speaking at a roundtable conference at the Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar, he said that Beijing supported Pakistan’s fresh initiatives for facilitating efforts for political settlement of the Afghan conflict and confidence-building measures in relations with Kabul.

Asked about apparent lack of eagerness on the part of China in the ongoing talks for political settlement of the Afghan issue, the envoy said that his country had contacts with both the Taliban and the Afghan government. China had deputed a special envoy who was visiting the Taliban’s political office in Doha, he added.

“China will pick them (Taliban) as a political force because they are now part of the Afghan political process and they have some political concerns. They have to be allowed to play a legitimate role in the future political settlement,” he further elaborated his government’s policy on the Afghan peace process being discussed at different forums.

“If possible, China can exert pressure on the Taliban to join the peace process,” said the ambassador who had served in Kabul and New Delhi before taking over his new assignment in Pakistan. He urged all external stakeholders, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, to play their role for peace in the war-ravaged country.

“Afghans have been suffering for the last 40 years and they deserve peace and stability,” he said.

Supporting Pakistan’s fresh initiatives for facilitating talks between the Taliban and US administration, he said that China backed this ongoing process and had also played its role in the Moscow meeting and at other forums.

Mr Yao said that Afghans were very friendly towards China which had close relations with their country. “When we look towards west, the immediate challenge for us is Afghanistan having many international terrorist organisations.”

He said that Central Asian states had their own version and vision about Afghanistan and the same was the case of Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

“We are very much hopeful about a peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue, but this is a very complicated issue, which requires a lot of patience,” the envoy said. The US might announce withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan where elections were around the corner, he added.

Clarifying his country’s stance about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), particularly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he accused western media of spreading negative propaganda against the project. He dispelled the impression that China wanted to establish its economic hegemony in the region through the BRI and the CPEC.

“Why would China want to control Pakistan through the CPEC and why would we spend money to control Pakistan? China could not control Pakistan in the 1960s when you (Pakistan) were in a more difficult position. At that time both countries had good relations,” he said, emphasising that Beijing’s foreign policy was never based on influencing or controlling other countries. He said that China had developed a new concept of foreign policy based on the BRI.

“You should understand China first, instead of judging [it] from the western propaganda. Please talk to us, understand China’s intentions and let us focus on peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr Yao said that the CPEC was purely an economic project, but regional rivalries, militancy and relations among the regional countries could affect the project. He said that India had its own assessment and understanding about the economic corridor. He said that China had very close relations with Pakistan and the CPEC was part of its own development strategy.

The ambassador said that the Gwadar port was presently a “losing” project and the Chinese company which took over it in 2011 was paying $14 million subsidy annually. He said that Pakistan had handed over the port to a Singaporean company in 2008 which had brought only one second-hand crane there.

He said that the CPEC did not encompass the whole relations between the two countries but it was only one part of the bilateral ties. He said that China had been supporting Islamabad at regional and international forums and had started trilateral cooperation comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. The CPEC would play a major role in this regard, he added.

Worried over the prevailing insecurity in the region, the envoy said that the BRI could become a victim of regional instability, insecurity or even state-to-state relations.