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US embraces intra-Afghan talks in China

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad speaks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School in Kabul. (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/U.S. Department of State)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. State Department welcomed China’s offer to host the next meeting between Afghan officials and the Taliban.

The message was part of a joint statement that the governments of the United States, Russia, China, and Pakistan released on October 28 after holding joint meetings in Moscow last week.

The Taliban last week said the conference — the second such meeting after a dialogue in Qatar in July — would take place October 29-30. However, on October 29, a Taliban spokesman denied a report that said a Taliban delegation was in Beijing.

China also failed to confirm the meeting 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,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing on October 29 in Beijing.

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad represented the United States in Russia on October 24-25 where the four countries renewed their support for “a comprehensive and sustainable agreement.”

They jointly “welcomed the Chinese proposal to host the next intra-Afghan meeting in Beijing,” the statement read.

Talks are expected to include “a wide range of political figures,” including “representatives of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, other Afghan leaders, and the Taliban,” the joint statement said.

The last intra-Afghan discussions took place in July in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Khalilzad is currently in Pakistan where he met with Prime Minister Imran Khan and on October 29 is expected to meet with the powerful military army chief, AP reported.

The Taliban’s governing council is believed to be headquartered in Pakistan.

Khalilzad for nearly a year negotiated with the Taliban, reaching a tentative agreement under which the United States would withdraw troops and end the 18-year war.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump in September ended the talks, citing the killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan while calling the peace process “dead.”

A sliver of about 76 kilometers of borderland is shared by China and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, officials said that at least 20 soldiers were killed in an overnight Taliban attack in Afghanistan’s northern province of Jowzjan.

At least two other soldiers disappeared following the attack on a military base in the Aqchah district, according to a member of parliament representing the province, Mohammad Karim Jawzjani, and provincial council member Abdul Hai Hayat.