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China, Afghanistan, Pakistan Seek ‘Orderly’ Foreign Troop Exit

FILE - Afghan Taliban prisoners are released from Bagram Prison in Parwan province, Afghanistan, May 26, 2020.

China, Afghanistan and Pakistan are calling for a “responsible” withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces from Afghanistan to prevent what they say is “potential terrorist resurgence” in the conflict-torn nation.

Top Chinese, Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministry officials issued the statement Tuesday at the end of the latest round of trilateral “strategic dialogue” the neighboring countries held via video link.

“The three sides urged for an orderly, responsible and condition-based withdraw of the foreign troops from Afghanistan to avoid potential terrorist resurgence,” said a joint post-meeting statement.

The discussions came as the United States presses the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency to quickly conclude a contentious prisoner swap to allow the start of the long-awaited negotiations between Afghan parties to the deadly conflict.

An eventual peace deal would enable U.S. and allied forces to withdraw from the country by July 2021 under a February 29 landmark agreement between Washington and the Taliban to end nearly two decades of Afghan war, America’s longest.

FILE - U.S. military advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade walk at an Afghan National Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan, August 6, 2018.
FILE - U.S. military advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade walk at an Afghan National Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan, August 6, 2018.

The U.S. military has pulled out several thousand personnel from Afghanistan since signing the pact, bringing the troop level to around 8,600. Washington, however, has stated that the drawdown of remaining troops will be “conditions-based,” and linked to whether the Taliban lives up to its counterterrorism pledges.

The proposed intra-Afghan dialogue was originally scheduled for March, but controversies plaguing the prisoner exchange and increased Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces have been blamed for the prolonged delay.

Afghan officials have freed about 4,000 insurgent prisoners but have linked the release of the remaining 1,000 to a reduction in Taliban violence and initiation of peace talks.

The Taliban says it has set free 737 out of the promised 1,000 Afghan security personnel from its custody. The group maintains it is working to release the remaining Kabul detainees but will not engage in peace talks until all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are released.

In Tuesday’s joint statement, China and Pakistan called for a reduction in violence and a humanitarian cease-fire, with both countries vowing to enhance cooperation with the Afghan government in support of “the peace reconciliation process, [and] the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations at an early date.”

Beijing is credited with establishing the trilateral dialogue process to help Kabul and Islamabad ease bilateral tensions and enhance economic as well as security cooperation.

“China will continue to play a constructive role in improving Afghanistan-Pakistan relations,” the statement said.

“The three sides agreed to continue to strengthen counter-terrorism and security cooperation, combat the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement”, and all other terrorist forces and networks posing threats to our common security,” it noted while referring to an anti-China terrorist group.

Leaders in Kabul and U.S. military commanders have long alleged the Afghan Taliban directs insurgent activities from sanctuaries on Pakistani soil, charges Islamabad rejects.

The Trump administration, however, has hailed Pakistan for facilitating Washington’s talks with the Taliban and the eventual peace-building pact between the two adversaries.

Pakistani officials insist insurgent fighters use communities hosting several million Afghan refugees in the country as hiding places. Islamabad repeatedly has called on the international community to help repatriate the refugee community to Afghanistan. The issue also came under discussions in Tuesday’s trilateral conference.

“The three sides agreed that the return of Afghan refugees should be part of peace and reconciliation process and underlined the role of international community for a time-bound and well-resourced roadmap for the return of Afghan refugees to their homeland with dignity and honor,” said the statement.