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US, Russia, China call for ‘inclusive Afghan-led’ peace process

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad speaks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School in Kabul. (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/U.S. Department of State)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States, Russia, and China have agreed on the goal of withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan and to seek an “inclusive Afghan-led” peace process, the three countries declared in a joint statement.

“The three sides call for an orderly and responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of the overall peace process,” a statement issued by the U.S. State Department said on April 26.

“The three sides support an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process and are ready to provide necessary assistance,” it added.

The statement also said that it takes not of the Taliban’s “commitment” to fight the Islamic State (IS) extremist group and to break ties to the Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. It said the Taliban promised to “ensure the areas they control will not be used to threaten any other country.”

Taliban negotiators have so far refused to negotiate with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, calling it a puppet of the West, and have insisted on the withdrawal of foreign forces before talks with Kabul can begin.

However, the United States, Russia, and China said they “encourage” the Taliban to speak “as soon as possible” with a “broad, representative Afghan delegation that includes the government.”

The comments come after Washington’s special envoy for the Afghan peace process, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with Russian and Chinese representatives in Moscow as part of efforts to build international consensus for his efforts to end the 18-year-long war.

The United States leads a multinational coalition in Afghanistan that is training and assisting Kabul’s forces in its battle against Taliban and other extremists. Khalilzad has been engaged in a series of talks with the Taliban in Qatar as he looks to bring the extremist group into peace discussions with Kabul.

Russia and China also have interests and a long history in Afghanistan. Some 14,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 in a conflict with Islamic guerrillas, who were then backed by the United States.

China has looked to step up its influence in Afghanistan and the broader region both militarily and economically and as it battles with Islamic militants on its own territory.

Khalilzad is scheduled to hold separate talks during his current trip with Pakistan and India, which also have strong interests — and divergent views – regarding Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ghani has invited thousands of his country’s politicians, religious scholars, and rights activists to Kabul for a loya jirga assembly next week to discuss ways to end the war.

Several opposition leaders said they will boycott the four-day event, saying it was organized without their input and is being used by Ghani to promote his reelection candidacy in the September presidential vote.