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Asia

Sieren's China: Not without the Taliban

China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US are negotiating how to sit at one table with the Taliban to curb the terror in Afghanistan. China's mediating role is increasingly important, says DW's Frank Sieren.

Stability through mediation, without rocking the balance of power - that's China's attitude towards the peace process in Afghanistan. China has concrete interests in the war-torn country and wants to prevent Islamist terrorism from spilling over from its western neighbor. Beijing assumes that the most recent terrorist attacks in the region of Xinjiang were planned from eastern Afghanistan. China also urgently needs a stable Afghanistan to put its ambitious "New Silk Road" plans into effect.

Moreover, China is more appropriate as a mediating role than the US, which has tried - and failed - to overturn the balance of power in the Afghanistan conflict. As Washington has had to accept that Syria cannot be solved without Russia, it also has to accept that Afghanistan cannot be solved without China.

One common goal at least

At the beginning of the week, China's special envoy on Afghan affairs, Deng Xijun, met Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Olson, in Islamabad. All four have one goal in common: They want to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table so that there can be direct talks with the Afghan government.

Frank Sieren *PROVISORISCH*

DW's Frank Sieren

This is most difficult for the US - after all they marched into Afghanistan in 2001 to get rid of the Taliban. By contrast, Beijing never broke off contact with the Taliban even if they were considered a difficult dialogue partner. The situation has not improved since the end of the NATO mission in late 2014: The radical Islamist Taliban's willingness to use violence has actually increased since the death of leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who had a $10 million (9.21 million euro) US government bounty on his head. The Taliban seems to be more at odds with each other than ever.

Pakistan, which hosted the talks, has been accused by the Afghan and US governments of supporting the Taliban both financially and materially and offering them refuge. The Taliban headquarters are thought to be in Pakistan. At the start of the talks in Islamabad, the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz argued that Pakistan's influence over the Taliban was overestimated.

All hope rests on China

This is why there are high hopes about China's role in the negotiations. Beijing not only wants to build up the infrastructure in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan. There are plans to build a new economic corridor with new roads, power stations and industrial parks, on which China intends to spend $46 billion. However, no money will flow as long as the region remains unstable. China is now wondering whether Pakistan wields enough influence to stabilize the situation and whether indeed it even has an interest in Afghan stability. Beijing's most important success thus far is that two Taliban representatives from the Gulf state of Qatar recently agreed to meet Chinese and Pakistani negotiators in Islamabad. This was an important step, but did not lead to the Taliban sitting at the same table.

There is one encouraging sign however - Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US are already planning to meet again for talks on January 18.

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.