Pakistan will host the United States, China and Russia this week for talks on Afghanistan under what is known as the “troika plus” process.
Officials in Islamabad have confirmed to VOA that Amir Khan Muttaqi, the foreign minister of the Afghan Taliban, has also been invited to the meeting, scheduled for Thursday, describing his participation as an “important” development.
Newly-appointed U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and his Russian, Chinese and Pakistani counterparts will lead their respective delegations at the talks.
Leaders are expected to reiterate international calls for the Islamist Taliban to ensure inclusivity in the political governance in Kabul and protect rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities.
Pakistani officials said Muttaqi will arrive in the country Wednesday as the head of a high-level ministerial delegation and will hold wide-ranging bilateral talks with counterparts in Islamabad, before joining the multilateral meeting the day after.
Moscow hosted previous troika
Moscow hosted the last troika plus talks in October but Washington stayed away from the meeting, citing logistical reasons. A day before the talks in the Russian capital, the then-U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had resigned and officials said his successor, West, was not prepared to attend the Moscow huddle.
West left Washington earlier in the week on his first trip to Europe and Asia to discuss the way forward on Afghanistan with allies and partners. He told reporters in Brussels on Monday that he will be visiting Pakistan later this week but shared no further details.
Thursday’s troika plus meeting comes amid United Nations calls for donor nations to scale up humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, saying more than half of the country’s estimated 40 million population is likely to go hungry this winter.
The Taliban returned to power in Kabul last August following the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of involvement in the war.
The global community has ignored Taliban calls for recognizing their interim Kabul government over human rights concerns and lack of inclusivity in the governance system.
Financial assistance cut off
Western countries have cut off billions of dollars in financial assistance to the country and blocked the Taliban’s access to Afghan foreign assets of nearly $10 billion, largely held in the United States.
The restrictions have plunged Afghanistan into an economic crisis and increased humanitarian needs to record levels, which stem from years of war and a prolonged widespread drought.
"The Taliban have voiced very clearly and openly their desire to normalize relations with the international community, to see a resumption in aid, to see a return of the international diplomatic community to Kabul, to see sanctions relief,” West said in Brussels. “And the United States can deliver none of these things on our own, and we have to work together with the international community in order to see those things.”
West said that Washington was “not seriously thinking” about reopening its embassy in Kabul at this time. “I think what we want to see is the establishment of a record of responsible conduct by the Taliban, of predictable conduct, and then we’ll assess what needs we have on the diplomatic front.”