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Taliban Denies Holding Peace Talks in China

FILE - A group of Taliban fighters are seen in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, April 18, 2015.

Afghanistan’s Taliban has rejected reports that its officials traveled to China last week and held talks with Kabul’s peace envoys.

The reported two-day discussions were said to have taken place in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi. It was reported that a four-member Taliban delegation sat across the table from senior members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council.

“We strongly reject these rumors. The enemy wants to raise the spirits of its morale-lacking security personnel with such propaganda,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to VOA Monday morning.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the meeting was held at Beijing’s initiative and was facilitated by the Pakistani spy agency to explore possibility of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The report says Chinese and ISI officials also attended the meeting on May 19 and 20 in the capital city of China’s restive Xinjiang region. Pakistani and Chinese officials have not yet commented on the report.

The newspaper says that Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai, Afghanistan’s new defense minister, led the Afghan delegation in the meeting.

Meanwhile, top officials from Afghanistan and the wider region gathered in Pakistan Monday to review progress and prepare an agenda for the upcoming ministerial meeting of the so-called Heart of Asia / Istanbul process, to be held in Islamabad later this year.

Deputy Afghan Foreign Minister Hikmat Khalil Karzai is leading Kabul’s delegation in the talks.

The Heart of Asia / Istanbul process was begun in November 2011 to galvanized cooperation aimed at promoting Afghan peace and stability, and the region as a whole.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry is co-chairing the meeting with Karzai, says a foreign ministry statement issued in Islamabad, adding representatives from 12 participating countries, 16 supporting countries and 12 regional and international organizations are invited to attend the discussions.

The Pakistani prime minister’s advisor on national security and foreign policy, Sartaj Aziz, while addressing the inaugural session Monday said his country is resolved to eliminate terrorism through coordinated efforts, reiterating the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan.

“We see our collective efforts for peace and reconciliation [in Afghanistan] as the ultimate culmination to bring about a lasting settlement of the conflicts that has been raging, in one form or the other, for the last three decades,” he said.

Pakistan has been urging the Afghan Taliban to cease its ongoing spring offensive in Afghanistan and engage in a peace and reconciliation process with President Ashraf Ghani's administration in Kabul. But the insurgent group has ignored the calls and instead stepped up attacks across Afghan provinces since late April.