U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the Taliban to follow the recent example of an Afghan warlord and strike their own peace deal with the Kabul government.
Speaking in Brussels at an international donors’ conference for Afghanistan on October 5, Kerry said that "there is a path toward an honorable end to the conflict that the Taliban have waged -- it is a conflict that cannot be won on the battlefield."
He said that a peace deal signed last week by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who heads the Hezb-e Islami group and was a key figure in Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s, was a "model for what might be possible."
Kerry added that a peace deal is the only way for the Taliban to end the fighting, ensure lasting stability, and "achieve a full drawdown of international military forces, which is their goal."
"Let me repeat it," he said. "The [Taliban's] goal of ridding Afghanistan of external forces will not occur by the demand or by the continued insurgency. It will come through peace."
Last week's agreement requires Hekmatyar to cease violence, cut all ties with international militant groups, and accept the Afghan Constitution, including its guarantee of rights for women and minorities.
"In return for keeping these commitments, Hekmatyar's group will be able to emerge from the shadows to rejoin Afghan society," Kerry said.
The agreement grants Hekmatyar amnesty for past offenses and the release of certain Hezb-e Islami prisoners. The Kabul government also agreed to press for the lifting of international sanctions on Hekmatyar.
However, the two sides agreed to disagree over Hezb-e Islami 's continuing demand that all foreign soldiers immediately leave the country.
There has been no immediate reaction from the Taliban to Kerry's remarks. The Taliban briefly penetrated the center of the northern city of Kunduz on October 3, and they are testing the defenses of two other provincial capitals in the south of the country.
The Brussels conference, which includes representatives of more than 70 countries and dozens of agencies and nongovernmental organizations, is expected to see pledges of more than $3 billion a year of development aid to the Afghan government through 2020.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that the 28-nation bloc would pledge 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion) a year and said that "I would expect similar levels of engagement from our partners."
On the eve of the conference the EU and Kabul announced they had reached a deal to speed up Afghanistan's taking back of migrants from Europe. Under the deal, Kabul is to accept the return of 80,000 Afghan asylum-seekers now in EU states.
Addressing the conference on October 5, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pledged that his government would continue efforts to rein in corruption and reduce poverty in Afghanistan -- two issues considered to be strong recruitment cards for insurgents.
"We are going to be relentlessly focused on reduction and elimination of poverty as our central task," he said, noting that 39 percent of the Afghan population lives on less than $1.35 a day.
Kerry said international support for Afghanistan has already produced "encouraging dividends" since the United States and its allies toppled the Taliban in 2001. The United States invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to expel Al-Qaeda's leadership from the country following the 9/11 attacks.
"Since 2001, maternal mortality in childbirth in Afghanistan has gone down by 75 percent," Kerry said. "Average life expectancy has risen from 42 years to 62 years. Access to basic health care has skyrocketed from 9 percent to 67 percent."
The top U.S. diplomat also called on Afghanistan's regional neighbors to do more to help it make peace with the Taliban and build on its economic progress.
"There are several countries that actually could help come together, and I urge Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Iran to think about the special role that they could play in this region in order to help make a major difference not only in the long-term economy and future social structure of Afghanistan but in reaching peace with the Taliban," he said.
He added that the more integrated Afghanistan is with its neighbors, the "more expansive economic growth will be and the more jobs that will be created."
The EU hosted the United States, China, India, and Pakistan at a dinner as the conference opened October 4 in an effort to build cooperation among them. Washington and New Delhi say Pakistan continues to harbor Afghan Taliban leaders and must do more to bring them to the negotiating table.
Mogherini said on October 5 that there was an understanding "to work on a common basis for regional political support for the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan."
Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters