The United States has welcomed China’s proposal to host a fresh meeting bringing together Afghan officials and the Taliban, after President Donald Trump abruptly ended talks with the insurgents.
The Taliban last week said that China invited a delegation to talks in Beijing, the second such meeting after a dialogue in Qatar in July that was co-arranged with Germany.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy on Afghan peace, met with his colleagues from China, Russia and Pakistan last week in Moscow, where the four countries renewed support for a “comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement.”
The four countries “welcomed the Chinese proposal to host the next intra-Afghan meeting in Beijing,” said a joint statement released Monday by the United States.
The talks will include “a wide range of political figures” including “representatives of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, other Afghan leaders and the Taliban,” it said.
There was however some confusion about when the talks might take place.
The Taliban last week said the conference would happen October 29-30, but on Monday an insurgent spokesman denied a report that said a Taliban delegation was in Beijing.
The Chinese government also failed to confirm the talks when asked at a regular press briefing on Tuesday, but said it would support an “Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process”.
“China is willing to provide facilitation and assistance to promote the Afghan peace and reconciliation process, including internal Afghan dialogue and negotiation, on the basis of respect for the wishes of all parties,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
The Taliban have refused to negotiate formally with the Kabul government, but the Beijing and Doha gatherings are seen as fostering dialogue and planting the seeds of an eventual brokered solution.
Khalilzad negotiated for a year with the Taliban, reaching an agreement under which the United States would withdraw troops and end its longest war.
But Trump last month ended the talks, withdrawing an invitation he said he extended to the Taliban to meet near Washington, citing the killing of a US soldier.
The United States has frequently tried to blunt the global influence of China and Russia, but Khalilzad has frequently consulted with the two on his search for Afghan peace.
China shares a 76-kilometer (45-mile) border with Afghanistan and has voiced concern about a spread of Islamic extremism, while the Soviet Union in the 1980s led a disastrous intervention in the country against Islamic guerrillas then backed by Washington
For the second time, the three powers opted to include Pakistan, which was the main backer of the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime and maintains contacts with the fighters.
Call for ceasefire
The Taliban should call a one-month ceasefire to prove they still control their forces, Afghanistan’s national security advisor said earlier on Tuesday, amid the signs the US wants to rekindle talks with the insurgents.
Hamdullah Mohib, a strong critic of earlier US-Taliban negotiations that excluded his government, said the Taliban no longer operate as a cohesive body and some commanders may have joined the Islamic State group.
“If the Taliban really want peace, they should prove how much control they have over their commanders and how much they really obey their commands,” Mohib said at a press conference.
“Our suggestion is for a one-month ceasefire, followed by negotiations.”
The Taliban do not recognize the Afghan government, while the Trump administration bypassed the Afghan government to engage directly with the Taliban, so it is unlikely the government’s call for ceasefire will be heeded.
Observers have sometimes questioned whether there is a disconnect between the Taliban’s political wing, based in Doha, and its military commanders in Afghanistan.
The insurgents have repeatedly rebuffed previous calls for a ceasefire, but last year they downed weapons for a historic, three-day truce.
Mohib, Afghanistan’s former ambassador to the US, said any future negotiations should include his government, as well as Pakistan, which has long been accused of backing the Taliban.
“Pakistan should provide a guarantee that they will not support the Taliban or other groups like them and not give them safe havens,” he said.
Pakistan denies it supports the Taliban.
The US spent the past year pushing for a deal with the Taliban that would have seen the Pentagon pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for security guarantees.
But President Donald Trump cancelled talks last month as Taliban attacks continued, including one that killed a US soldier.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy leading talks for Washington, has since spoken informally with Taliban officials in Pakistan, raising the possibility Washington seeks to resume dialogue.
Khalilzad was in Kabul on Sunday and visited Islamabad again Monday, though it was unclear if he spoke to Taliban officials on that visit.
Mohib in March infuriated the Trump administration by suggesting Afghan-born Khalilzad wanted to install a caretaker government and make himself “viceroy.”
Even though Trump has declared the Taliban talks “dead,” Khalilzad has continued criss-crossing the globe to build international consensus on a potential deal with the Taliban and an eventual end to America’s longest war.
On Monday, he welcomed a proposal from China to host a fresh meeting bringing together Afghan officials and the Taliban, and last week the US and Europe issued a joint statement saying: “Sustainable peace can only be achieved through a negotiated political settlement.”