China Rekindles Afghanistan Peace Talks

In this photo released by the Foreign Office, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, center, receives members of Taliban delegation at the Foreign Office in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Senior Taliban leaders are meeting with Qureshi in Islamabad as part of a push to revive an Afghanistan peace …
Pakistan Foreign Office via AP

The Chinese government is trying to organize peace talks between rival factions in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, which sent a delegation to Beijing last month to meet with Chinese officials.

A Taliban spokesman on Tuesday said China has invited it to send a delegation “to participate in the intra-Afghan dialogue” it is arranging while the United States attempts to revive its own stalled negotiations.

Reuters reported the Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the specifics of the meeting, while a spokeswoman for the Afghan government said the China-sponsored meeting would probably take place before the end of October. 

According to this spokeswoman, the government in Kabul has not yet decided who it will send to the meeting. Evidently, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai volunteered for the duty, as did former militia commander (as Reuters would have it) or mujaheddin warlord (as the New York Times once called him) Ismail Khan.

“I hope this dialogue opens the way to further meetings through which we can achieve a peaceful solution,” Khan said.

The Taliban has generally refused to deal with the government in Kabul, which it characterizes as a puppet of the United States. Taliban representatives indicated they would only be willing to tolerate the presence of “lower-level officials” at the Chinese talks.

The U.S. State Department said on Monday that special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was just able to launch a new round of talks between the U.N., European Union, and NATO, and planned to meet soon with Russian and Chinese officials to “discuss shared interests in seeing the war in Afghanistan come to an end.”

The Chinese responded angrily in September to U.S. accusations that Beijing is interested in exploiting Afghan territory for its Belt and Road Initiative, but has done nothing “substantial” to assist with economic development or political stability.

“She is a little ignorant about what China’s cooperation with Afghanistan is,” Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing sniffed in response to criticism from U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells.

Yao touted Kabul’s signature on a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on Belt and Road, adding “the only problem is that the security situation poses a little challenge, so that is why China and Pakistan and all the regional countries, we are working so hard trying to support or facilitate peace in Afghanistan.”

NBC News reported on Monday that the Pentagon is drawing up plans for a swift American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan if President Donald Trump orders something along the lines of his Syrian pullout. 

This raises the possibility of handing the Afghan quagmire off to China, which has a small and rough land border with Afghanistan, clearly stated interests in the country, and far fewer qualms about trampling on civilian human rights to subdue troublesome insurgencies. Perhaps the upcoming China-sponsored talks will provide an opportunity for both the savage Taliban and fractious, corruption-plagued Kabul government to focus their minds on the unpleasant alternatives to reaching an agreement with the United States.

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