Thu, Oct 04, 2018 - Page 9 News List

‘Father of Taliban’ urges China to aid Afghan peace talks

By Ismail Dilawar  /  Bloomberg

A Pakistani Muslim cleric who taught the Taliban’s leaders has called on China to play a larger role in negotiations to end the 17-year Afghan conflict.

Beijing’s stake in regional peace is larger than the US’, Maulana Samiul Haq, who is known as the “Father of the Taliban,” said in an interview at his seminary near the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Haq, who is believed to be in close contact with the Afghan Taliban and schooled its chief, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said that China would be welcomed as an arbitrator in negotiations and should not “leave matters of such a great importance solely to the US.”

China has long been concerned about Afghanistan’s instability spilling across its border. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist militant group formed by members of China’s Muslim Uighur community, has in the past operated in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now Beijing is allegedly cracking down on ethnic Uighurs in its vast Xinjiang Province that borders both nations.

As US President Donald Trump tentatively renews direct talks with the Taliban in a bid to end the US’ longest war, Haq said peace negotiations can succeed if Washington announces a troop withdrawal date.

His comments illustrate the conflict’s complexity and influence wielded by Pakistani actors.

Although Islamabad has acted against militants that threaten Pakistan domestically, the US accuses the country of supporting insurgents who strike inside Afghanistan.

“The US should welcome a greater role by China in the Afghan peace process,” said Joshua White, a former director for South Asian affairs at the US National Security Council and now non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Perhaps the most useful thing that China can do is to encourage better ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which would contribute to the stability of the Afghan government and bolster its negotiating position.”

The Chinese government last month denied reports it had quietly increased its security presence in the country and built a military base in Afghanistan.

However, it has increased economic aid and investment in the war-torn nation in the past few years, including rail links.

“As long as there is an opportunity, China will promote peace talks in a private way,” said Shi Yinhong (時殷弘), a foreign affairs adviser to the Chinese State Council and professor at Renmin University. “Some people wish China could provide more resources or even to send military forces, but this is not appropriate.”

The Taliban, like 82-year-old Haq, see the Afghan government as illegitimate and demand a withdrawal of foreign soldiers as a precursor to peace.

When Trump last year increased troop numbers he purposefully declined to set a timeline that would allow the insurgent group, which controls or contests about half the country, to wait out the US.

“These peace talks can be fruitful only when the US comes up with a clear agenda for withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan,” said Haq, a turbaned preacher whose Darul Uloom Haqqania madrasah is known as the “University of Jihad” and houses 4,000 students in a 3.2-hectare compound in the small town of Akora Khattak.

It still has more than 200 Afghan “Taliban,” a Pashto word for “students,” all of whom are registered with Islamabad as refugees.

It was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 that first saw young Afghan and Pakistani students from Haq’s seminary cross the border to fight. The mujahidin were at the time aided and supplied by the CIA as part of a Cold War effort to defeat the Soviets.

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