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Pakistan, the United States, Russia, and China have jointly asked the Afghan government and the Taliban to submit their respective roadmaps within 10 days for the future of the war-torn country, according to a western source briefed on the development.
The move came as the insurgents have moved at speed, seizing new territories almost daily, as US and other foreign troops withdraw after 20 years of military operations. They now control a third of Afghanistan's regional cities, in a crushing blow for government security forces.
The major stakeholders urged the two warring factions to immediately stop attacks against the civilians and respect human rights.
The message was conveyed to the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban at a Troika Plus meeting held in Doha on Wednesday to discuss the emerging security situation in Afghanistan.
The Troika Plus, comprising Pakistan, the US, Russia and China, has been meeting regularly in recent months to make a joint push for seeking an end to the war in Afghanistan.
Unlike the previous meetings, this time the Taliban and Afghan government delegations were also invited to the Doha meeting in a collective move by Islamabad, Moscow, Beijing and Washington in order to persuade both sides to reach a peace deal at the earliest.
The situation in Afghanistan is precarious with the Taliban making rapid inroads. The US intelligence assessment suggests that the Taliban could take over Kabul within 90 days.
Against this backdrop, the Troika Plus meeting in Doha was being closely followed as it was not only attended by senior diplomats from Pakistan, the US, Russia and China but also by the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban.
The Afghan government was represented by Chairman High Peace Council Dr Abdullah Abdullah while the Taliban representatives were headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
The meeting but discussions were “intense and frank,” a western source who was briefed on behind-the-scene discussions told The Express Tribune.
The source said the Taliban and the Afghan government representatives were told in clear terms that the time was running out and both sides had to come up with a workable road map to prevent further chaos in the war-torn country.
The special envoys of the four countries expressed dissatisfaction with the sluggish progress made in the intra-Afghan dialogue thus far and asked both sides to expedite the slow-paced development.
“If they don’t come up with a plan then we have to look for other means to deal with the situation,” said the source.
Read ‘Capitulation’ of Afghan forces not Pakistan’s fault
When both sides were pushed for progress in the intra-Afghan dialogue, they apparently cited the lack of mandate from their leadership to take the major decisions.
However, the troika plus members contended that if they did not have the mandate then there was no point of meeting in Doha and suggested that the next troika meeting could be instead scheduled in Kabul. Both sides were given two options: either they should come up with a clear mandate from their leadership or send someone who will have the authority to take the big decisions.
“The intra-Afghan talks cannot continue for eternity while the people of Afghanistan will continue to suffer,” the source revealed.
The Taliban and Afghan government representatives were told in no uncertain terms that the Troika Plus was a serious forum and wanted to seek an end to the war in Afghanistan but if parties to the conflict did not show any seriousness then there was no point in going ahead with the process.
Both sides were also sternly asked to refrain from targeting civilians and categorically told not adhering to human rights was not acceptable. The Taliban and Afghan government representatives accused the other of violating human rights and killing civilians during the closed-door meeting.
The Taliban side insisted that civilians were killed mostly due to the US and Afghan air forces airstrikes. But the Taliban admitted that initially their fighters did commit some violations.
Nevertheless, they were now given clear direction by the Taliban leadership not to harm civilians and even declare amnesty for government servants and others.
The source said the Troika Plus would closely monitor the situation and are likely to meet in the first half of September to review the progress.
Separately, the US and the UK have announced to deploy troops to evacuate their respective embassy staff.
The Pentagon said that it was deploying around 3,000 troops to Afghanistan immediately to evacuate US embassy employees securely as the threat grows from the Taliban insurgency.
"The first movement will consist of three infantry battalions that are currently in the Central Command area of responsibility. They will move to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul within the next 24 to 48 hours," said Defense Department spokesman John Kirby.
The UK government said it was sending 600 troops to Afghanistan to help British embassy staff leave the country after the United States announced a similar deployment as the Taliban makes rapid gains.
"I have authorised the deployment of additional military personnel to support the diplomatic presence in Kabul, assist British nationals to leave the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff who risked their lives serving alongside us," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
"The security of British nationals, British military personnel and former Afghan staff is our first priority. We must do everything we can to ensure their safety," he added.
The military personnel will deploy to Afghanistan on "a short-term basis" due to "the increasing violence and rapidly deteriorating security environment in the country," the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.