China on Friday said it will play a “constructive role” to bring Pakistan and Afghanistan on the same page as part of fresh efforts to resolve the 16-year conflict with the Taliban by hosting a trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of the three countries. The move by Beijing and Islamabad is seen as an apparent attempt to counter US President Donald Trump’s tough policy against the Taliban and Pakistan which was announced last month as part of America’s new Afghanistan and South Asia policy.
Unveiling the new China-driven Afghanistan policy, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif said that Beijing will play a “constructive role” to bring Islamabad and Kabul together.
“The participation of China in bringing together and finding a political solution to Afghan problem is very vital. To support the initiative, Pakistan has already undertaken many steps, and will pursue those steps of improving relationship with Kabul,” Asif said while addressing a joint press conference with Wang.
He said that before his visit to Beijing, he had held talks with his Afghanistan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani and they have agreed to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly which will be the first such meeting after Trump’s Afghanistan and South Asia policy speech wherein he announced deploying more troops in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, specially the Haqqani network based in Pakistan.
To keep Pakistan and Afghanistan engagement substantive and robust, Asif said Pakistan will take up confidence building measures and keep engaged with Kabul at all levels including political, military and intelligence.
“We have had a very compressive discussion a while ago. China and Pakistan have agreed that the solution to Afghan problem is fundamentally a political solution and not a military solution. We three are neighbours. We have stakes in Afghanistan’s peace and we are already involved in a substantive way, creating atmosphere and culture of peace in the region.
“With China’s intervention and its role in bringing together Islamabad and Kabul, we will go a long way and will definitely pursue a policy of engagement with Kabul in bringing peace to our region,” Asif said.
Meanwhile, Wang, who has been trying to play a mediatory role between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the last few months following persistent criticism by Kabul accusing Islamabad of fostering terrorism by aiding and abetting the Haqqani network, said that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are important neighbours of China.
“A good relationship will serve both the countries otherwise it will hurt both the countries. So, we sincerely hope that both the countries will work in the same direction and work together for the well-being of Pakistan and Afghanistan and contribute peace in the region,” he said.
The Chinese side welcomes Pakistan’s attitude of improving relations with Afghanistan, Wang said.
As a close neighbour of Pakistan and Afghanistan, China values its relations with both the countries and will work to narrow the differences between them and help them build mutual trust, he said.
“In addition, we are exploring trilateral cooperation between the three countries. I want to let you know that with the communication between the three parties, there is initial progress in trilateral cooperation,” he said.
It is planned that before the end of this year, there will be the first China, Pakistan, Afghanistan foreign ministers meeting in China, Wang said without directly referring to Trump’s more pro-active engagement in Afghanistan wherein the US president also spoke of India’s active role in rebuilding the war-ravaged country.
“We have identified three priority areas which are strategic communication, security dialogue and practical cooperation. On that basis, we will work to advance on trilateral basis starting from easier matters with goal of establishing a new platform for regional cooperation.
“I am confident that with the consorted efforts from Pakistan and Afghanistan and with the active support from China and relations between the two countries and cooperation among the three countries will embrace a brighter future,” Wang said.
Observers say that Wang’s remarks indicate that China will re-activate its efforts to mediate between Pakistan and Afghanistan which till now were proved unsuccessful due to Islamabad’s unwillingness to withdraw its backing to the Taliban, blamed for creating havoc in Afghanistan.
China in the past also tried to engage the Taliban by inviting its representatives to Beijing.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani started his presidency in 2014 with a visit to China soon after his election hoping for a pro-active role by China to rein in Pakistan to control the Talban and bring it to the negotiating table in the backdrop of then US president Barack Obama’s plans to withdraw US troops.
With unabated violence, Ghani’s government turned to India and the US, leading to the recent policy rejig by Trump to announce the new Afghan policy under which Washington will pursue more aggressive policy against the Taliban and Pakistan.