OCT 3, 2018: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (S) chief Maulana Samiul Haq 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 Haq, who is known as the “Father of the Taliban,” said in an interview at his seminary near Peshawar.
Haq, who heads the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Nowshera district, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 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.”
Haq’s statement comes a day after an Afghan delegation met the JUI (S) chief, and asked him to play a role in restoring peace in the war-torn country by bringing the Taliban back to the dialogue table.
The delegation, comprising Ashraf Ghani government representatives and diplomats stationed in Pakistan, called on Haq at his seminary, wherein they sought his support, read a statement issued by the seminary.
Haq said that it was his wish the ‘jihad’ concluded, the bloodshed ended and Afghanistan emerged as an independent country.
He, however, stated that it was an international issue, and that the United States besides other international powers were not letting that happen.
China, like Pakistan, has long been concerned about Afghanistan’s instability spilling across its border.
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.
“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 has increased economic aid and investment in the war-torn nation in the past few years, including rail links while it is deeply engaged with Pakistan on the humongous China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
“As long as there is an opportunity, China will promote peace talks in a private way,” said Shi Yinhong, 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.
Haq remains a player, observers say. 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 mujahedin were at the time aided and supplied by the CIA as part of a Cold War effort to defeat the Soviets.
Haq warned the US against keeping peace talks behind closed doors, which might mislead the Taliban’s rank-and-file into thinking their mediators are making questionable compromises while they fight on the battlefield.
Haq also offered to help with the negotiations.
However, he said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has not yet asked him for assistance. Haq’s party entered into alliance with Khan’s party PTI in the general elections which saw Khan forming government in the Center, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces.
Khan has many times said that the best way to end the Afghan war is via a negotiated settlement with the insurgent group and that his government would ally with the US for bringing peace, not continuance of war, in Afghanistan.
While asking China to get more involved in the conflict, Haq however urged Khan to treat Beijing with caution as he looks for outside assistance in dealing with a worsening financial crisis.
“I would suggest that some religious scholars and Afghan and Pakistan government representatives listen to those who have been at war with the Afghan government and meet at an unidentified place to listen to their point of view, without bringing it to the knowledge of the US,” Haq told the delegation.
The stakeholders, he added, including fighters from the previous regime and the Afghan people should sit together and unite on a point for independence of Afghanistan besides withdrawal of Nato troops from the country.
Last week, reports suggested representatives from the Taliban met an Afghan government delegation in Saudi Arabia to discuss security ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections and a limited prisoner release — US officials earlier met in July in Qatar with representatives of the Taliban.
The meeting came less than a month before voters are due to go to the polls on Oct 20 to elect a new Afghan parliament, a process which has been hampered by fears of attacks on polling stations and campaign rallies.
(Based on reports in Bloomberg, Taipei Times, Express Tribune and additional inputs from APP)