The Taliban’s political chief visited China days ahead of what some news outlets have described as a crucial round of peace negotiations with the United States — the seventh in about a year, scheduled to take place in Qatar early this week.
On Monday, Arab News quoted Abdul Hai Mutmayen, who served as the Taliban’s chief spokesman in Kandahar province, the group’s birthplace, as saying the organization’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is leading a delegation in Beijing.
“It seems that Taliban leaders are making efforts to hold consultations and exchange their views with key stakeholders ahead of the next round. The visit is an indication that the seventh round is important,” Mutmayen declared, echoing Voice of America (VOA).
On Sunday, VOA noted:
The United States and the Taliban are scheduled to hold a crucial round of negotiations in Qatar early this week amid high expectations of a breakthrough in nearly a year-long process toward ending the war in Afghanistan.
Both sides vowed to finalize draft agreements reached in March: the withdrawal of U.S.-NATO-led international forces in exchange for assurances from the Taliban that international terrorist groups like its ally al-Qaeda and rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) will not be allowed to operate on Afghan soil.
“I hope with the announcement of a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the process may gain momentum, paving the way for the Afghans to sit together and chart a road map for a future Islamic system and government,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban negotiating team, told VOA ahead of the upcoming talks.
The upcoming meeting between the U.S. team led by Afghan-born American reconciliation envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and a Taliban delegation headed by the terrorist group’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will mark the seventh round of talks in Qatar.
In a statement issued ahead of the scheduled meeting, Khalilzad also pledged he would “try to bring the first two parts of our peace framework to closure,” but he stressed success would require all sides to show flexibility, VOA pointed out.
“Meanwhile, the Taliban leaders have said the group could accept China as a guarantor if they reach a peace deal with the United States,” Khaama Press (KP) reports.
The Taliban’s refusal to allow the Afghan government to participate in the negotiations has surfaced as the primary hurdle to a peace pact. Taliban jihadis claim they will negotiate with Kabul after the withdrawal of all foreign forces.
VOA learned from unnamed official sources in Kabul that a two-day intra-Afghan meeting, including government and Taliban officials, is scheduled to take place in Doha early next month.
“The sources said the meeting was scheduled for July 7 and would be an outcome of the upcoming U.S.-Taliban negotiations,” VOA noted.
The Taliban, which already controls or contests more territory (about half of the country) than during any other time since the U.S. military ousted its regime in late 2001, has continued to conquer more land during the peace talks.
The terrorist group has come out against a U.S. proposal to leave behind a residual American counterterrorism force to ensure the Taliban keeps its promises. Yet the group wants to keep the flow of American taxpayer funds flowing into the country.
The Taliban and its ally al-Qaeda have described America’s peace-seeking efforts as a victory for jihadis in Afghanistan.
Alongside its rival the United States and ally Russia, China reportedly urged the Taliban in April to discuss a political reconciliation agreement with the Afghan government, considered a crucial step aimed at ending the nearly 18-year-old war.
Both Russia and China have expressed support for the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. China shares a border with the war-ravaged nation, which also sits close to Russia.
Beijing also intends to expand its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), considered a threat to the U.S. by the American military, into Afghanistan.
Abrar Hussain, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, told Arab News, “China’s interest in Afghan peace … will lead to the withdrawal of foreign troops and bring economic opportunities, so China has been hosting informal meetings for this purpose.”