Taliban say new Afghan peace talks will be held in China
A new round of Afghan peace talks will be held in China next week, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said, raising hopes as violence surges in Afghanistan’s 18-year war.
The talks planned for October 28 and 29 will be the first between the Taliban and Kabul representatives since negotiations in July.
On Monday, the US State Department said its peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, started a new round of talks with European, Nato and UN allies about ending the war.
Mr Khalilzad will later meet Russian and Chinese representatives, the State Department said.
For nearly a year, Mr Khalilzad led direct US talks with the Taliban. But in September, as a deal seemed imminent, US President Donald Trump declared the talks dead after attacks in the Afghan capital left more than a dozen people dead, including a US soldier.
Mr Trump continued to call for the withdrawal of the estimated 14,000 US soldiers still in Afghanistan, saying they had taken over the job of policing the country, something which the Kabul government’s security forces should be doing.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he believed the US could reduce its force in Afghanistan to 8,600 without hurting the counter-terrorism fight against Al Qaeda and ISIS.
But Mr Esper said any withdrawal would take place as part of a peace agreement with the Taliban.
In recent weeks signs have emerged of a renewed effort to have peace talks with the Taliban restarted.
This month, Mr Khalilzad met Taliban chief negotiator and co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Pakistani capital Islamabad for their first meeting since Mr Trump declared the talks dead.
Mr Khalilzad has been criticised by the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani for holding his talks with the Taliban in secrecy.
But the Taliban have refused to talk directly with Mr Ghani’s government, calling it a puppet of the US.
The State Department said the trip to Pakistan was not about restarting talks with the Taliban, but the meeting seemed to be a beginning.
Taliban representative Suhail Shaheen said the group was ready to resume talks from where they left off in September. He said September 13 had been chosen for the signing of a peace deal.
Immediately after signing, the Taliban agreed to announce a ceasefire but only against US and Nato troops, Mr Shaheen said.
He said the deal also called for a ceasefire with Afghan forces to top the agenda at the first intra-Afghan negotiations, which were due on September 23.