KABUL AA - Afghanistan’s western backers have agreed to work with the Kabul government, the Taliban and civil society leaders to reach sustainable peace agreement in the country, an official statement said on Wednesday.

According to the US State Department statement, special envoys and special representatives of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the UK and the US met in EU Headquarters, Brussels on October 22.

It said the participants “acknowledged the widespread and sincere demand of the Afghan people for a lasting peace and an end to the war”.

The statement called on all sides to observe a ceasefire for the duration of intra-Afghan negotiations to enable participants to reach agreement on a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future.

It called on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other prominent Afghan leaders to focus on preparing the government for formal intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban, including the naming of an inclusive, national negotiating team.

China invites Taliban, Afghan officials for two-day talks

Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman said on Wednesday a fresh round of intra-Afghan dialogue is going to be held in China next week. Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Anadolu Agency that Deng Xijun, China’s special representative for Afghanistan, met with Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha, Qatar’s capital, late Tuesday and invited the group to a Beijing conference.

The Taliban have accepted the invitation and they will send a delegation to attend the conference, Mujahid said.

The High Peace Council in Afghanistan has also confirmed participation at the forthcoming peace moot in Beijing.

Suhail Shaheen, Taliban political spokesman, said on Wednesday that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s co-founder, met with Chinese diplomats in Doha, where the group has a political office. “China has invited a delegation ... to participate in the intra-Afghan dialogue,” Shaheen said. The conference will take place on October 29 and 30.

It would be separate from talks between the US and the Taliban, which spent the past year negotiating a deal that would have seen the US pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various security guarantees.

“All participants will be attending the meeting in their personal capacity and they will share their personal opinions for solving the Afghan issue,” Shaheen said.

There was no immediate reaction from the administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Shaheen told reporters “it is not yet clear” whether government officials would attend, noting only lower-level officials should be included in the guest list.

A spokesman for former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who attended intra-Afghan talks in Russia in February, said Karzai’s office was aware of China’s plan for talks and Karzai would attend if invited.

A 60-strong delegation of Afghans, including government officials and representatives of civil society groups, held a second round of intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban in July in Qatar.

China shares a 76-kilometre border with the extreme northeastern tip of Afghanistan, in a mountainous area called the Wakhan Corridor on the Afghan side.

Early September, US President Donald Trump declared the peace talks with the Taliban “dead” following a recent attack in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul which killed a dozen people, including a US service member.

Following the US move, the Taliban opened new battle fronts across the war-weary nation, as Afghan security forces - suffering casualties and desertions - struggle to beat back a revitalized insurgency.

On Monday, the US State Department said Zalmay Khalilzad, the special US envoy for Afghan reconciliation, departed for his visit to Brussels, Paris, and Moscow. In Moscow, Khalilzad will meet with Russian and Chinese representatives “to discuss shared interests in seeing the war in Afghanistan come to an end,” the State Department said in its statement.