ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani used a regional conference in China Friday to reiterate his call for the Taliban to join a national peace dialogue and urged his country's international partners to support what he said is an Afghan-led and Afghan owned process. The insurgents have already rejected Ghani’s offer of peace talks and have instead intensified attacks across the country.
Beijing is hosting the annual conference of the so-called “Heart of Asia/Istanbul Process,” where foreign ministers and senior representatives of countries around Afghanistan gather to promote peace and reconstruction in the war-torn nation after NATO ends its combat mission in December. President Ashraf Ghani, who is in China for his first official visit, addressed the opening session of the regional meeting.
“Peace is our highest priority. We invite the political opposition, particularly the Taliban, to join an inter-Afghan dialogue and ask all our international partners to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” said Ghani.
China is Afghanistan’s largest investor but its increased efforts to promote Afghan security also stem from its concerns that instability in the neighboring country could fuel the Muslim Uighur insurgency in the violence-hit western Xinjiang border region.
Chinese authorities suspect the separatists have links to Islamist militants entrenched in volatile areas of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
President Ghani vowed his country will not permit anyone to use Afghan territory against another state.
“We must not, and will not permit groups pursuing grand illusions to use our country as the battle ground or launching pad against the international system,” he said.
The Taliban has already rejected President Ghani’s offer of peace talks, and instead has intensified violence across the country in the last month.
Its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA the Taliban is upset at Ghani for swiftly signing a security pact with the United States that allows around 10,000 American soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
He accused the new Afghan president of serving American interests and insisted the Taliban does not “want to waste time talking to an administration [in Kabul] with no authority."
Afghan officials have along alleged neighboring Pakistan supports the Taliban insurgency and is sheltering its leaders.
Islamabad denies the charges and insists return of the Taliban to power in Kabul through force is detrimental to Pakistani security interests.
President Ghani while addressing the gathering in Beijing also addressed the issue without naming any country. “We are determined to lead and own the peace process through an inter-Afghan dialogue. We ask our neighbors and partners to assist us in this critical process by honestly and clearly communicating whether they have the capacity and the will to be of assistance,” he said.
The new Afghan leader has acted on several key campaign promises since taking office late last month, but promoting political reconciliation with the Taliban appears to be the most formidable challenge facing Ghani.
He has yet to assemble his national unity government in which he will have to share power with the new chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up in the presidential election.
Both leaders have divergent views on how to deal with the Taliban and there are fears internal political rifts in the unity government may embolden the Taliban to intensify their violent campaign to try to seize power.
Mohammad Ismail Qasemyar is a member of the Afghan High Peace Council that President Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai set up to seek a political settlement with the Taliban. He said stakes are high for both the leaders as they promised a peaceful Afghanistan while running their election campaigns.
“We all believe that a lasting peace in Afghanistan and stability and security are so crucial, and whatever they had promised they will not be able to fulfill them unless there is peace and security in Afghanistan. So they will do anything that they can [to promote the national reconciliation]," Qasemyar stated.
Addressing Friday’s gathering in Beijing, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang reaffirmed China has faith in Kabul’s ability to solve its own problems and urged support for Afghanistan’s efforts to realize security and stability. He said the international community should respect the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
A U.S. State Department official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity on the eve of the regional conference, welcomed China’s increased involvement in Afghanistan. As he put it, the US now regards China as a “critical player” in the region, and sees Afghanistan as an area of real cooperation with China and not one of competition.
American and Afghan officials also hope that Beijing will use its historically close strategic ties with Pakistan to convince it to crack down on Islamist extremists accused of fueling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.