KABUL -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, in a surprise visit to Kabul, has called on the Taliban to participate in negotiations to end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan, saying continued fighting in the war-torn country was "pointless and counterproductive."
"To be part of Afghanistan's future, they must sit down at the negotiating table," Stoltenberg told a news conference on November 6, urging the Taliban and other insurgent groups to "stop killing their follow Afghans."
The NATO chief's visit comes as Afghan officials and the Taliban separately said they would be sending a delegation to attend international peace talks in Russia this month.
It was not clear, however, if Stoltenberg was endorsing those talks, saying any peace process should be "Afghan-owned and led."
Some U.S. officials have expressed concerns that the Russia conference could derail efforts by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to persuade the Taliban to agree to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan.
The country's security forces are continuing to struggle to counter stepped-up attacks by the Taliban and other militant groups in their drive to force the Western-backed government in Kabul from power since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
Highlighting the concerns over the security situation, the Taliban attacked an Afghan border post in the western province of Farah late on November 5, killing at least 20 soldiers and abducting about 20 others, officials said.
At the news conference following his meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Stoltenberg asserted that NATO was "determined to see Afghanistan succeed," citing the 16,000 troops from 39 countries participating in the Resolute Support Mission.
But he also said that the Western alliance's leaders "count on the government to meet its commitments for good governance, the rule of law, fighting corruption and protecting the rights of all -- especially women."
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's High Peace Council, a government body responsible for reconciliation efforts with the militants, said it will send four representatives to the peace talks being organized by Russia on November 9.
The Taliban's political office separately told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the militant group would participate in the talks, though it said it does not regard them as a "formal dialogue for peace.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry, however, did not say whether it would send a delegation to the conference, which was initially scheduled to take place in September but was postponed after Kabul insisted that the process should be Afghan-led.
"We are still negotiating with the Russian officials," ministry spokesman Sebaghtullah Ahmadi said. "We welcome any peace effort that is Afghan-led."
Speaking alongside Stoltenberg, Ghani expressed hope that "the day of the beginning of formal negotiations would not be far [away]. But it's not negotiations, it is the results [that matter].
"The result has to be an inclusive Afghan peace that all Afghans buy into; and again this will be an inclusive process, we support the engagement of our international colleagues," he added.
Moscow has also invited representatives from the United States as well as India, Iran, China, Pakistan, and five former Soviet republics in Central Asia -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Pakistan will "definitely" attend, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Faisal told the AFP news agency.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether a U.S. delegation would attend.
U.S. efforts to bring the Taliban to the peace table have for years foundered over the militants' insistence on negotiating directly with Washington rather than the Afghan government, which it calls a "puppet" of the United States.
As recently as late October, U.S. and Taliban officials have conducted preliminary talks in Qatar, where the militants have a political office that serves as a de-facto embassy.
Also on November 6, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells was in Islamabad where she discussed peace and stability in Afghanistan with Pakistani officials, according to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.
The ministry said the two sides "agreed to continue efforts to promote the shared objectives of peace and stability in the region."
Washington and Kabul have long accused Pakistan of harboring militant groups that carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the charge and says it is ready to help resolve the Afghan conflict.
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