ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - China urged U.S.-led foreign troops Saturday to withdraw from Afghanistan in an “orderly and responsible” manner if a prospective peace deal is signed with the Islamist Taliban to end the 18-year war.
U.S. negotiators are in the final stage of their yearlong bilateral dialogue with the insurgent group. The peace process, being hosted by Qatar, could end America’s longest overseas military intervention.
“We call on the United States and the Taliban to continue with the negotiations and to implement the agreement after it is signed,” visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in neighboring Pakistan.
The top Chinese diplomat spoke after attending a trilateral dialogue with Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and their host and Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
“In particular, we call on them [the U.S. and Taliban] to make good on their commitments regarding the troop drawdown and counterterrorism efforts so that the seeds of peace can be sown and take root,” Wang said. He reiterated China’s resolve to increase its economic and political engagement with Afghanistan to help in rebuilding efforts there.
Draft framework agreement ‘in principle’
U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said Monday that he had reached “in principle” a draft framework agreement with the Taliban. The document outlines a foreign troop drawdown timetable in return for Taliban assurances they will not harbor transnational terrorist groups that threaten U.S. and allied nations.
Khalilzad, however, said the agreement would have to be reviewed and approved by U.S. President Donald Trump before it was signed.
Khalilzad explained the deal would require 5,000 American forces to immediately withdraw from five Afghan bases within the first 135 days, but he did not discuss the fate of the residual U.S. military force of roughly 8,600 service members.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told VOA this week, without elaborating, that all U.S. troops and their NATO allies would have to leave Afghanistan under the deal. Some reports said that could happen by the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
China’s Wang, however, cautioned against a hasty foreign troop withdrawal.
“The situation in Afghanistan is now at a critical stage. The withdrawal of foreign troops needs to be conducted in an orderly and responsible manner in order to ensure the smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan,” Wang said.
Beijing’s increased regional involvement stems from concerns that fugitive anti-China militants could exploit continued instability in the neighboring country to threaten fragile security in western Chinese border regions.
Khalilzad has said the Taliban would also be bound under the deal to engage in peace negotiations with Afghan officials and other members of the turmoil-ridden Afghan society to discuss a cease-fire and the country’s political future.
But the Taliban refuse to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government, rejecting it as an American puppet.
Wang supported U.S. calls for the insurgents to commit themselves to engaging in talks with government officials and other Afghan stakeholders to build a framework for intra-Afghan negotiations on a political arrangement that is acceptable to all parties in the event of foreign troop drawdown.
Afghanistan’s Rabbani, while addressing reporters, reiterated Kabul’s worries that the framework agreement Washington has reached with the Taliban could encourage the insurgents to try to militarily seize control of power if foreign forces leave the country.
“As the peace efforts continue, the Taliban have yet to show genuine commitment to peace. This is manifested by their decision to continue terrorist attacks, killing innocent Afghans from all walks of life on a daily basis,” Rabbani said.
The Taliban have intensified attacks across the country in recent days, killing scores of Afghan forces and bringing more territory under their control. The insurgents maintain that cessation of hostilities is not being discussed with the U.S., saying the issue will be on the agenda when intra-Afghan negotiations begin as an outcome of the deal with Washington.
China established the trilateral dialogue forum in 2017 with a mission to ease tensions between its two neighbors, Afghanistan and Pakistan, through increased bilateral security, political and economic cooperation. The tensions stem from long-running Afghan allegations that the Taliban leadership directs insurgent activities from alleged sanctuaries on Pakistani soil.
Islamabad rejects the charges, saying for the past decade its security forces have eliminated all militant infrastructures on the Pakistani side of the long, porous Afghan border. Pakistan also takes credit for arranging the ongoing U.S.-Taliban dialogue.
Pakistan’s Qureshi said Saturday that his country hoped the framework agreement being finalized between the U.S. and Taliban would lead to intra-Afghan negotiations for a sustainable and durable peace.
“In order for Pakistan to be peaceful, Afghanistan has to be peaceful,” Qureshi said. “We have undertaken serious [security] operations to clear our areas from terrorist activity … and there is international recognition for it.”