China held rounds of talks with Taleban, says Afghanistan leader

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - China has held rounds of talks with the Taleban and asked the Islamist militants to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, the head of Afghanistan's power sharing government said on Friday.

The Chinese have held "one, two or three" rounds of talks with the Taleban in the past few months, Abdullah Abdullah said at a conference organised by an Indian media group.

"They asked the Taleban to have talks directly with the Afghan government, that's a good message," Abdullah said, adding that he did not know what the outcome would be of China's efforts.

China's foreign minister last month said during a visit to Islamabad that Beijing was willing to help mediate talks to end the Afghan war, but Chinese officials have not provided many details.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said this week that reports its diplomats in Islamabad met last month with Taleban representatives "do not accord with reality".

Abdullah, speaking at the India Today Conclave 2015 in New Delhi, did not say where the meetings took place.

He said Afghanistan had begun to improve relations with China under the previous president, Hamid Karzai, with the idea that Beijing could use its influence over Pakistan to help broker peace talks.

China has close ties with Afghanistan's neighbour Pakistan, which is widely believed to harbour the Taleban's top leaders and exert considerable control over the group.

In February, a Pakistani army delegation brought word to Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani that Taleban leaders had signalled they were willing to open talks, according to senior Pakistani and Afghan officials.

Since then, senior representatives of the militant group have visited Islamabad where they were told to end a rift between two leaders that could undermine a peace process, two Taleban sources said.

Abdullah's backing of the nascent process to negotiate an end to the 13-year insurgency is crucial because many of his supporters represent the vehement anti-Taleban wing that fought against the hardline Islamists when they held power until 2001.