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U.S., Russia, China, And Pakistan Urge Afghan Cease-Fire

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Members of the Taliban's delegation attend an international peace conference in Moscow on March 18.

The United States, Russia, China, and Pakistan have jointly called on Afghanistan's warring sides to reach an immediate cease-fire just six weeks before a deadline for the United States to pull out troops who have been in the country for nearly 20 years.

"At this turning point, our four countries call on the sides to hold talks and reach a peace agreement that will end more than four decades of war in Afghanistan," read a joint statement issued after the conclusion of talks in Moscow on March 18.

The statement called on the Taliban and government forces to curb violence and urged the militants not to declare offensives in the spring and summer. It also said the four countries were committed to mobilizing political and economic support for Afghanistan once a peace settlement had been reached.

The Moscow talks were meant to breathe life into negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban that opened in Qatar in September but have stalled over government accusations that the insurgents have done too little to halt violence.

The meeting included members of the Afghan government, the country's negotiation team, Taliban officials, as well representatives of Russia, China, Pakistan, and the United States.

It marked the first time Washington has sent a senior official to participate in Afghan peace negotiations convened by Russia.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad's presence was seen as a sign of Washington's increasing effort to attract support among regional powers -- including China and Russia -- for its plans for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad has recently tried to gain support for the U.S. administration's road map to peace, including inviting more parties to the negotiations, the establishment of an interim government including the Taliban during the transition to peace, and the signing of a power-sharing agreement between Afghan political factions and the Afghan government.

The U.S. envoy said earlier that he saw the Moscow meeting as a "complement" to international efforts to support the Afghan peace process.

Moscow, which fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, has given its support to the Washington initiative and pushed for a quick resolution, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying while opening the talks in Russia that "in a degrading military-political situation, further delays are unacceptable."

"The situation is becoming an increasingly bigger concern, especially with the approaching spring and summer season traditionally accompanied with intensified combat activity," Lavrov said.

Moscow has hosted talks among Afghan sides and regional powers since 2017. However, Washington had focused on its own direct talks with the Taliban and talks between the Afghan parties themselves. On March 18, Russia's special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that Moscow now plans to host intra-Afghan talks.

The Afghan delegation included members of the current negotiation team in Qatar, warlords accused of war crimes, and no women.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is opposed to an interim government, while the Taliban has indicated it would not join.

The chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah (left), is seen with Afghan political leaders and members of the negotiating team as they depart for Russia.
The chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah (left), is seen with Afghan political leaders and members of the negotiating team as they depart for Russia.

Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan's High Council For National Reconciliation, said after the Moscow talks that the state negotiation team was ready to discuss any topic with the Taliban.

"We called for an end to targeted killings and a comprehensive ceasefire to begin the next rounds of the talks in a peaceful environment," Abdullah wrote on Twitter.

The Moscow gathering was seen as a curtain-raiser for a larger meeting of regional players in Turkey in April, as well as a summit that Khalilzad has asked the United Nations to organize.

With reporting by AP, TASS, and Reuters
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