China invites Taliban to participate in 'intra-Afghan' peace talks
The invitation follows the collapse of a deal between the Taliban and the United States last month.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban political spokesman, said on Twitter that the group's co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar had met with Chinese diplomats in Doha where the militant group has a political office.
"Both sides discussed the upcoming intra-Afghan conference in Beijing and issues related to the solution of Afghan problem," Shaheen wrote, and later told AFP that the conference would take place over October 29-30.
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Shaheen tweeted that the "The Chinese government invited a large [Taliban] delegation to attend the conference. The conference is a series of short conferences in Moscow and Doha. All participants are personally involved and offer their personal views on Afghanistan's problem-solving process."
The conference would be separate from the talks between the US and the Taliban, which spent the past year negotiating a deal that eventually broke down in early September. Had it been successful, the Pentagon would have pulled thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various security guarantees.
President Donald Trump however cancelled those talks abruptly following continued violence in Afghanistan, including an attack that killed one American soldier.
The deal would have paved the way for dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban to find an end to the conflict within in the war-torn country.
The Taliban have so far refused to talk to the Afghan government. Shaheen said that the presence of Afghan officials in China would be on the understanding that they will merely be representing themselves, and not in any official capacity.
"All participants will attend in their personal capacity and will present their personal point of view for the solution of the Afghan problem," Shaheen wrote on Twitter.
Similar talks have been held previously in Doha and in Moscow.
Beijing has not confirmed these developments, but a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said on Wednesday that China is "willing to facilitate and help" the Afghan peace process "on the basis of respecting the wishes of all parties".
The Afghan government said "talks are ongoing" with the Chinese government for a possible summit, which it welcomed "in principle" but did not commit to sending any representatives.
"If acceptable standards are observed, a decision will be made in regard with participating in this conference," the statement read.
Shaheen expressed to AFP that only lower-level government officials should be allowed on the guest list.
A spokesperson for former President Hamid Karzai told AFP that Karzai was "prepared to attend", but that no decision had been finalised.
The United States and Europe have meanwhile published a joint communique calling on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders to prepare Afghanistan for "intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban, including the naming of an inclusive, national negotiating team".
The statement also called on "all parties to take immediate and necessary steps to reduce violence and civilian casualties".
The Taliban have been major players in Afghanistan ever since they won the civil war in 1996 that gave them control over most of the country.
The United States' invasion in 2001 following the September 11 attacks pushed them back, but the war has since stalled into a destructive stalemate in which civilians have born the brunt of the worst of the violence.
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