Starting Wednesday, China will host a series of multilateral meetings, featuring delegates from the United States and Russia, to discuss ways to stabilize Afghanistan and convey to its Islamist Taliban rulers the need to moderate polices and "earnestly" fight terrorism.
The events in Tunxi, in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, will begin with a conference of foreign ministers from Afghanistan's neighbors — Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — to be chaired by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters Tuesday that Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will also attend the two-day meeting. The Indonesian and Qatari foreign ministers will attend as guests, he added.
The spokesman said that Yue Xiaoyong, China's special envoy to Afghanistan, would also host his American, Russian and Pakistani counterparts for a new round of talks under what is known as the "troika plus" dialogue process.
"As agreed upon by all sides, the extended meeting of the China-U.S.-Russia consultation mechanism on the Afghan issue will be held on the sidelines of the third foreign ministers' meeting," he said.
Beijing hopes the meetings will encourage regional countries and the international community to step up support for peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, spokesman Wang said.
West to represent US at talks
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told VOA that Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West will attend the troika plus meeting in Tunxi.
"It is our understanding that China has invited Taliban representatives," the spokesperson said.
The troika plus talks will bring Russian and U.S. officials to the table for the first time since Moscow invaded Ukraine more than a month ago, raising tensions with Washington and West at large.
"By hosting … the foreign ministers' dialogue, we hope to further understand the Afghan people's difficulties and needs, convey neighboring countries' concerns on the Afghan issue, and work on the Afghan side to build an open and inclusive political structure, follow moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies, and earnestly combat terrorism," Wang Wenbin told a news conference on Monday.
The Chinese and Pakistani foreign ministers will also hold a meeting with Afghanistan's Muttaqi under a tripartite dialogue process aimed at exploring ways to help the Taliban tackle economic challenges.
Humanitarian needs and economic upheavals have worsened in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country in August and U.S.-led international forces withdrew from the South Asian nation after nearly 20 years.
Talks come days after Afghanistan edicts
The China-hosted diplomatic engagements are coming just after the male-only hard-line Taliban regime enacted a series of edicts in recent days in Afghanistan, raising concerns the group is reintroducing the harsh Islamic style of rule it employed from 1996 to 2001, when human rights abuses such as the barring of women from education and work led to the country's international isolation.
The Taliban have banned girls and women from attending school beyond the sixth grade. Women are not allowed to board planes or taxis unless accompanied by a male relative.
Men and women must visit public parks on separate days, and the use of mobile telephones in universities is prohibited. Male government employees have been instructed to wear a beard and adhere to a Taliban-authorized traditional Afghan dress code.
The de facto Afghan authorities have blocked international media broadcasts, including VOA's and BBC's Pashto and Dari news programming. They have also banned foreign drama series on Afghan television channels.
The controversial actions have drawn global condemnation and demands that the Taliban immediately reverse them.
The Taliban continue to move Afghanistan in the wrong direction, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday, as seen in their March 23 decision to prevent girls from attending secondary school.
"Each of these actions alone is alarming, but combined, they make clear the Taliban are not living up to the essential commitments they made to the Afghan people and the international community," Price said.
All Afghans are endowed with the human right to education and freedom of expression, he stressed, urging the Taliban to cease infringements of those rights.
"These are not Western values or concessions to the international community; they are human rights and essential to a peaceful and prosperous Afghan society, which is something the Taliban claim to desire," Price added.
The international community has not yet recognized the Taliban government, citing human rights and terrorism-related concerns even as Afghanistan is in the grip of what the United Nations says is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. More than half of the country's estimated 40 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, with nearly 9 million Afghans only a step away from famine.
Analysts say human rights concerns are expected to dominate discussions with the Taliban delegation in China.
"Without a doubt, neighbors of Afghanistan will put Mr. Muttaqi on the spot and ask him behind closed doors why Kabul has decided to deprive teenage girls [of] education," said Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official.
"Taliban's decision to put limits on girls' education goes against Islamic beliefs as well as the U.N.'s human rights charter."
Cindy Saine contributed to this report.
The story has been updated with additional information and a headline.