KABUL (Reuters) - China is organizing talks among Afghanistan’s rival factions as part of efforts to end years of war after negotiations between the Taliban and the United States on the withdrawal of U.S. forces broke down, Afghan officials said on Wednesday.
China, which shares a short border with Afghanistan, has been trying to encourage peace efforts and last month a Taliban delegation visited Beijing for talks with government officials.
“China has invited a delegation ... to participate in the intra-Afghan dialogue,” a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a post on Twitter late on Tuesday.
The so-called intra-Afghan dialogue is aimed at reconciliation between Afghanistan’s warring parties and has been running parallel to the talks between the insurgents and the United States.
Those negotiations had aimed at striking a deal for U.S. and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump halted the talks after the militants carried out a bomb attack in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.
The United States has been hoping that its deal with the Taliban would pave the way for a ceasefire and power-sharing talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
The Taliban have refused to talk to the government, denouncing it a U.S. puppet, but government officials have taken part in the intra-Afghan dialogue as private citizens.
Shaheen said the talks in China would be held on that basis.
“All participants will be attending the meeting in their personal capacity and they will share their personal opinions for solving the Afghan issue,” he said.
He did not give a date for the talks.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China supported the Afghan peace process and it was willing to provide what help it could.
But she declined to comment directly on any Chinese meeting, saying if the government had anything to announce it would do so in a “timely manner”.
An Afghan government spokeswoman said the talks in China were expected by the end of the month but it had not been decided who would take part from the government side.
“We welcome all efforts that help the Afghan peace process,” said Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of State for Peace Affairs.
A spokesman for former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who attended the first round of intra-Afghan talks in Russia in February, said Karzai would go if invited.
Veteran Afghan militia commander and politician Ismail Khan said he would be in a delegation of up to 30 people, including government representatives, but he did not expect any conclusions to be reached at this stage.
“I hope this dialogue opens the way to further meetings through which we can achieve a peaceful solution,” Khan told Reuters.
A 60-strong delegation of Afghans, including government officials and representatives of civil society groups, held a second round of intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban in July in Qatar.
Additional reporting by Storay Karmini in Herat, Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan & Simon Cameron-Moore