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West Remains 'Committed' To Afghan Peace As Taliban Touts China Talks

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (left) shakes hands with Zalmay Khalilzand at NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 21.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (left) shakes hands with Zalmay Khalilzand at NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 21.

The UN, the European Union, as well as a number of Western countries, including the United States, say they remain committed to reaching a "sustainable peace agreement" that ends the war in Afghanistan.

The joint statement was released on October 22 in Brussels, where U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met with counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the EU, and UN during a two-day visit.

It stated they were willing to work with the Afghan government, the Taliban, and other Afghan political civil-society leaders "to reach a comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement."

Afghan voters were applauded for voting in the September 28 presidential election despite "technical challenges and security threats."

All sides in the Afghan conflict were urged to "observe a cease-fire" for the duration of the upcoming "intra-Afghan negotiations" so that "a political road map for Afghanistan's future" can be reached.

It reaffirmed that the Taliban and other Afghan groups must not let the country be a haven for "Al-Qaeda...or other international terrorist groups" and that the Taliban must cut ties with and not support them.

The same day, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said a new round of intra-Afghan peace talks would be held in China and was planned for October 28-29.

It will be the first meeting between Taliban and prominent Afghans from Kabul since a July round of discussions were held in the Qatari capital of Doha.

As violence continues unabated in the 18-year conflict, Khalilzad is next scheduled to meet with Russian and Chinese representatives "to discuss shared interests in seeing the war in Afghanistan come to an end."

He has for nearly a year engaged in a number of rounds of talks with the Taliban and was poised to reach a settlement in September before President Donald Trump withdrew from the imminent deal after a series of attacks in Kabul killed more than a dozen people, including a U.S. soldier.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters last weekend while making a surprise visit to Afghanistan that he believed the United States can reduce its force in the country to 8,600 without adversely affecting counterterrorism efforts.

However, he emphasized that any troop withdrawal would happen as part of a peace deal with the Taliban.

Signs that peace talks would start anew emerged earlier this month when Khalilzad met Taliban chief negotiator and co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

It was their first meeting since the September deal collapsed.

The State Department afterward insisted that the envoy's trip to Pakistani wasn't related to resetting talks with the Taliban.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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