Tal­iban say new Afghan peace talks will be held in China

The National - News - - NEWS -

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.

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