China is reportedly attempting to mediate a resolution between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban to address the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issue, according to official sources. The Chinese government wants the Afghan Taliban to neutralize the threat posed by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), while Pakistan is concerned over the presence of TTP and its affiliates in Afghanistan. The Foreign Ministers of China and the interim Afghan government recently met in Islamabad for a trilateral meeting to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan, which included discussions on terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan. While the Afghan Taliban government is working on a plan to address China’s concerns, the issue of TTP remains unresolved.
After the Taliban takeover, Pakistan hoped that the TTP issue would be dealt with permanently. However, when Pakistan sought action against the TTP, the Afghan Taliban instead proposed brokering a deal with the militant outfit. Pakistan reluctantly accepted the proposal, and initially, talks made progress with TTP announcing a ceasefire in return for Pakistan freeing certain militants. As part of the confidence-building measure, Pakistan allowed hundreds of TTP fighters to resettle in the country. However, the process soon went into trouble as returning fighters started targeting security forces.
The current civil and military leadership of Pakistan has acknowledged that the policy to seek peace with the TTP was wrong, and they have decided to no longer seek peace talks with the group. During the visit of interim Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, Pakistan raised the TTP issue again, but the Afghan foreign minister was adamant that Pakistan should talk to the TTP. He expressed his desire at the keynote speech he delivered at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. However, Pakistan did not agree and wanted the interim Afghan government to find ways to deal with the TTP.
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Sources suggest that China is pursuing both sides to agree on a “workable solution” to break the stalemate. The Afghan Taliban previously proposed the relocation of TTP fighters from Pakistani bordering areas, but asked Pakistan to bear the cost. A similar plan was offered to China by the Afghan Taliban to address the issue of ETIM. China is keen that both sides do not lose sight of the bigger picture while addressing the issue of TTP. Essentially, China does not want the TTP issue to undermine bilateral ties between the two countries, something that would be detrimental to regional connectivity.
Pakistan is using the good offices of China to press upon the Afghan Taliban on the TTP issue. China has leverage over the Afghan Taliban, according to sources. Pakistan is trying that China uses that financial and economic leverage over the Afghan Taliban to address the issue of terrorist sanctuaries. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang recently expressed hope that “Pakistan and Afghanistan will bear in mind the larger picture and try to work out the issues between them through dialogue and consultation.” His statement suggests that Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban must not take the issue of TTP to a point of no return.