Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai says there has been a greater sharing of intelligence between his country and China, and a joint U.S.-Chinese program to mentor junior Afghan diplomats. In one of the only cases of such cooperation in the world, the U.S. brought 15 diplomats to Washington, D.C., last month, after they had received similar training in China. Similar three-way programs are being developed in health and agriculture.
‘‘Recently, China has taken a keener interest in the security situation and the transition process, and we are more than happy that this is increasing,’’ Mosazai says. ‘‘It’s certainly a change, a welcome change.’’
He adds that Beijing could play a crucial role in forging peace in Afghanistan because of its close relations to Pakistan, which has long-standing links to the Taliban, whose leadership is widely believed to operate from the country.
Davood Moradian, who heads the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, says the Chinese are treading carefully, realizing they lack expertise in a complex political landscape that has tripped up other great powers.
‘‘The Chinese are ambiguous. They don’t want the Taliban to return to power and are concerned about a vacuum after 2014 that the Taliban could fill, but they also don’t like having U.S. troops in their neighborhood,’’ he says.
Should the Chinese step into the peace process, either as a principal intermediary or through Pakistan, they could carry considerable weight.
‘‘They are rare among the actors in Afghanistan in that they are not seen as having been too close to any side of the conflict. All sides are happy to see China’s expanded role,’’ Small says.
Though China doesn’t want a Taliban takeover, Beijing regards the group as a ‘‘legitimate political force,’’ says Small. Beijing was on its way to recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks that led to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
The Afghan government has backed off from earlier criticism that the Chinese were not contributing their share to security and reconstruction of the country.
‘‘There was an attitude that the Chinese were just interested in profiting from other people’s loss, the blood and sweat of American and other troops,’’ says Moradian. ‘‘But that is changing.’’
Associated Press reporters Yu Bing in Beijing and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this story.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ This story is part of ‘‘China’s Reach,’’ a project tracking China’s influence on its trading partners over three decades and exploring how that is changing business, politics and daily life. Keep up with AP’s reporting on China’s Reach, and join the conversation about it, using the hashtag (hash)APChinaReach on Twitter.