* Chinese foreign minister says Afghan stability affects
* Calls for inclusive political solution to conflict
* Pledges Chinese role in search for peace
By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL, Feb 22 China urged its neighbour
Afghanistan on Saturday to embrace an inclusive political
solution to its long-running conflict during a rare visit by a
top Chinese official, who said the very security of his own
country's western regions depended on peace.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi was due to meet President Hamid
Karzai during his visit, which coincides with preparations by
U.S. and allied troops to draw down their forces after more than
12 years of fighting Taliban extremists.
China, which shares a short border with Afghanistan in the
country's mountainous northeastern corridor, has become
increasingly concerned about security in its western region of
Xinjiang, where it says Muslim extremists receive help from
militants in neighbouring countries.
"The peace and stability of this country has an impact on
the security of western China, and more importantly, it affects
the tranquility and development of the entire region," Wang told
a news conference alongside his Afghan counterpart, Zarar Ahmad
"We hope to see a broad-based and inclusive political
reconciliation in Afghanistan as soon as possible, and China
will play a constructive role to facilitate that...A divided
country will have no future."
Wang last visited Kabul in early 2002 when he was vice
foreign minister and reopened China's embassy after the fall of
the Islamist Taliban government.
His visit coincides with a time of transition for
Afghanistan, ahead of both the year-end deadline for the
pull-out of foreign troops and an April presidential election.
Eleven candidates, representing different ethnic, tribal and
religious groups, are competing to replace Karzai, who has
served two terms as Afghanistan's elected president. All pledge
to end decades of civil war and insurgent conflict.
China has been stepping up its engagement with other
regional players in recent months in Afghanistan, Beijing-based
diplomats say, mainly out of concern that the NATO-led force's
pullout may spawn instability that could spill into Xinjiang.
"They're taking a lot of initiative," said a Beijing-based
diplomat who follows China's relations with Afghanistan,
speaking on condition of anonymity. "They're worried about what
will happen in Xinjiang."
Plans by the United States and its allies to keep a small
force in Afghanistan to bolster Afghan forces against the
Taliban have run up against Karzai's refusal to sign an accord
authorising the post-2014 foreign troop presence.
The Taliban and its Pakistan-based leadership show no signs
of renouncing their guerrilla campaign to regain control of
Afghanistan. Karzai's government has had little success pursuing
peace talks with the Taliban to produce a political solution.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met Karzai on the sidelines of
this month's Sochi Winter Olympics, where Xi pledged help for
reconstruction and urged Kabul to create a "safe environment for
bilateral cooperation," according to Chinese state media.
Xi said China wanted greater cooperation to fight extremism,
saying that "the fate of Afghanistan will be more closely linked
with that of the region after 2014".
Xinjiang, with its large Muslim minority, has risen up
China's domestic security agenda since a vehicle ploughed into
tourists on Beijing's Tiananmen Square last October, killing
three people in the car and two bystanders. Authorities blamed
the incident on extremists from the province.
More than 100 people, including several policemen, have been
killed in violence in Xinjiang since last April, according to
state media reports. But foreign experts have doubted the extent
of assistance from overseas militants to extremists in Xinjiang,
as alleged by Beijing.
Wang's visit may also underscore Afghanistan's economic
potential, despite the insecurity that has deterred foreign
investment. China is keen to invest in Afghan resource deposits
worth as much as $1 trillion, based on U.S. Pentagon estimates.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Adam
Jourdan in Shanghai; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Ron