New Afghan peace talks expected in Oman but Taliban participation unclear

Afghan security forces escort alleged Daesh and Taliban militants being presented to the media at the police headquarters in Jalalabad on October 3, 2017. Representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US will meet in Oman next week to discuss reviving peace talks with Afghan Taliban militants. (AFP / Noorullah Shirzada)
Updated 12 October 2017
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New Afghan peace talks expected in Oman but Taliban participation unclear

KABUL: Representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US will meet in Oman next week to discuss reviving peace talks with Afghan Taliban militants, an Afghan official and a Pakistani Foreign Ministry source said on Wednesday.
But it was not clear if Afghan Taliban representatives would join the talks. Taliban sources said they had not yet received an invitation and plan to skip Monday’s discussions in Muscat, casting doubt on efforts to revive long-stalled negotiations.
The four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QGC), comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US, has been trying to ease the path to direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with little success.
The Taliban, ousted in a US-led military intervention in 2001, has been gaining territory in recent years through a violent insurgency to try to topple Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and re-establish a fundamentalist regime.
Amin Waqad, a close aide to Agfhan President Ashraf Ghani and a senior member of the High Peace Council (HPC), said, “HPC and government representatives will participate, and it is an important one because the Taliban representatives will be there. We will go with a clear plan.”
A senior Pakistani Foreign Ministry official confirmed the talks would take place on Oct 16. Last week, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told Voice of America the “quadrilateral arrangement will again be in operation” in Muscat in October.
The US Embassy in Islamabad did not comment for the report.
Talks and efforts to kick start negotiations have failed following the 2015 announcement of the death of the Taliban’s founder and long-time leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, in 2013.
The US wants Pakistan, which it accuses of harboring Afghan Taliban commanders, to exert more influence on the group to bring them to the negotiating table.
Pakistani officials deny sheltering Taliban militants and say their influence on the group has waned.
Two senior Afghan Taliban leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the group’s leadership council met on Tuesday and decided it would not send a delegation to Muscat even if the group was invited to participate.
“Till that time, we were not invited, but even if we received any invitation, our senior members decided not to participate in the meeting,” said one of the Taliban leaders.


China air force circles Taiwan in latest military drill

Updated 1 min 7 sec ago
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China air force circles Taiwan in latest military drill

BEIJING: Chinese aircraft flew around self-ruled Taiwan on Thursday, China’s air force said, the latest in a series of exercises Taiwan has described as military intimidation.
Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as Chinese territory, is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.
Over the past year or so, China has ramped up military drills around democratic Taiwan, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island.
The Chinese air force said in a statement it scrambled fighter jets, early warning aircraft, reconnaissance planes and H-6K bombers from multiple airports for “combat military drills” on Thursday.
The air force said its H-6K bombers had conducted numerous drills circling Taiwan since April 18 “to improve its ability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it sent planes and ships to monitor the activity and ensure its maritime and airspace security, and there were no “abnormal situations.”
China’s hostility toward the island has grown since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
China has been issuing increasingly strident calls for Taiwan to toe the line, even as Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo and keep the peace.
On Wednesday, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said drills near Taiwan were designed to send a clear message to the island, and China would take further steps if Taiwan independence forces persisted in doing as they pleased.
Last week, China conducted live-fire drills along its southeast coast and its air force said it flew H-6K bombers around Taiwan, prompting Taiwan to say China’s exercises amounted to military intimidation.