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KABUL, Afghanistan — A senior Afghan peace envoy met with ex-Taliban officials in China last week in an attempt to lay the groundwork for talks between the government and country's former rulers, a source told NBC News on Tuesday.
The "consultative talks on peace talks" were brokered by China as well as Pakistan's military and intelligence service, the ISI, an Afghan government official familiar with the meeting told NBC News. The Wall Street Journal reported that talks had been held in China's Western Xinjiang province on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Masoom Stanekzai, former head of the peace council who is now Afghanistan’s acting defense chief, met with "a large group of former Taliban officials accompanied by several Pakistani military and intelligence officers," said the source who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity. "Their flight was arranged by the Pakistani military."
The Taliban representatives were not involved with the day-to-day operations of the militant group but exerted great influence and respect in it, the source said.
"There was unprecedented eagerness for peace on [the Taliban's] part, but they kept insisting that it will be impossible to convince field commanders to stop fighting as long foreign forces are present in Afghanistan," added the source.
On Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said at a news briefing that she was not aware of the talks and therefore could not confirm or deny the reports. An Afghan government spokesman declined to comment.
A Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, vehemently denied that it was holding any sort of discussion with the Afghan government.
"We do not deem it necessary to meet or establish political links with anyone secretly," Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement. "If we have ever traveled anywhere or met with anyone, we have informed the media on the matter. We do not believe in secret talks."
NBC News' Mushtaq Yusufzai in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Eric Baculinao in Beijing, China, contributed to this report.