Once again, secret talks with Taliban representatives are said to have taken place - this time in China. Given the string of deadly attacks in their country, Afghans have reacted to the alleged meeting with skepticism.
According to some Afghan and Western media outlets, an Afghan peace delegation and former officials of the Taliban regime held secret talks last week in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi. The Afghan delegation was reportedly headed by Masoom Stanekzai, secretary of the Afghan government's High Peace Council, who has also been nominated as defense minister by President Ashraf Ghani.
Talks about talks
According to some reports, three representatives of the Taliban - Mullah Abdul Jalil, Mullah Abdul Razaq and Mullah Hassan Rahmani - participated in the negotiations. Also present were officials of Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI), who reportedly facilitated the talks.
Beijing has officially denied any knowledge of the alleged meeting, but the Chinese government, in the past, has shown a great deal of interest in a peaceful settlement in neighboring Afghanistan.
"Beijing should have known something about this meeting," Wang Lian, a political scientist at Beijing University, told DW. "Probably China doesn't want to talk about it, mainly because the Taliban are perceived as extremists and terrorists, but eventually, if the reconciliation process in Afghanistan succeeds, it will be good for China. It is also about China's own security," he added.
The alleged Urumqi talks are the latest in a series of similar unofficial meetings between Afghan officials and the Taliban in Qatar and Iran. Both parties deny that these talks have taken place, and this time it is no different: "We have received no information about a meeting in China," according to High Peace Council's Shahzada Shahid. "These are only rumors," he added.
Afghan experts and lawmakers have criticized the secrecy over the talks because President Ghani had promised that the discussions with the Taliban would be transparent.
"The Afghans are unhappy with the government. There have been no real peace talks to date," said Haji Abdulhai Akhondzada, a parliamentarianfrom Helmand Province and deputy chairman of the parliament's Commission for Internal Security. "Until now, the talks have been only about how to start the talks," he added.
Retired Taliban officials?
But the victims are the people in Afghanistan, Akhondzada told DW. "The security situation in the country is getting worse by the day. There are no positive developments, and there is fighting in each province. The Taliban are in the midst of their spring offensive, and they will only be willing to talk if their offensive fails."
The parliamentarian added that the government in Kabul had made no progress in this regard, and that the Pakistani leadership had failed to keep its promise of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Afghan political analyst Ahmad Saeedi agrees and argues that it makes no sense to engage in talks with former Taliban officials. "Those based in the Emirates and other Arab countries have almost no influence on the activities of today's Taliban," he told DW.
Friend or foe?
Experts agree that only if the ISI genuinely cooperates with Kabul, will any demands made on the Taliban carry some weight. Pakistan recently announced it would support Afghanistan in the fight against common enemies.
And last week, Kabul announced that the Afghan and Pakistani governments had agreed to forge a partnership between their intelligence agencies. The agreement stipulates that both sides share information regarding future operations and the fight against insurgents. However, the controversial deal has been criticized by a majority of Afghans.
Saeedi believes that Pakistan's pledge of support is only a game. "Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the media on May 25 that his government wanted to fight the Taliban. One day later, however, we saw renewed attacks in the Afghan provinces of Kandahar, Wardak and Baghlan."
According to the UN, the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan has reached a new record. In the first four months of the year, a total of 974 Afghans were killed and 1,963 others were injured - a 16 percent rise compared to the same period last year.
This is why Saeedi believes that the Pakistani pledges are just empty words. "If they truly want to contribute, they first need to banish the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura from the country," he said, adding that he doubts this would ever happen.
Cui Mu of DW's Chinese service contributed to the text.