KABUL: Afghanistan’s chief negotiator in peace talks said on Tuesday that he was hopeful Taliban militants would join the process, but warned that public support would wane if there were no quick results.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai said the meeting in Islamabad on Monday had mainly been intended to set a framework for the process before a meeting in Kabul on Jan 18 to draw up a roadmap for talks with the Taliban.

The key question remains whether the Taliban, divided as a result of the leadership dispute which broke out last year but increasingly successful on the battlefield, will participate in the process, which is backed by Pakistan, the United States and China.

“After 30 years of war, I think they are interested and they are inclined towards joining this process,” Mr Karzai told a news conference in Kabul.

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A previous round broke down in July after it became known that the group’s founder and leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had actually been dead for two years and his deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been in control.

The news damaged trust between Kabul and Islamabad, which many in Afghanistan believed had participated in the cover-up.

Subsequently appointed leader, Mullah Mansour’s authority has been rejected by a substantial faction led by Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, a former governor of the southern Nimroz province when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 2001.

“I think there are some problems among the Taliban themselves. They do not talk with one voice but we have to be open to talk to all of them,” Mr Karzai said.

The last round of talks began while Mansour was in effective command of the Taliban. Militants close to him have said they may consider joining but so far Rasoul’s faction has ruled out participating in any process involving foreign powers.

Next week’s meeting would aim to set up roadmap with a three-stage process covering a pre-negotiations phase, to be followed by direct talks with the Taliban themselves and a final period where an agreement would be implemented.

But Mr Karzai said concrete progress had to be achieved over the coming weeks, in time for beginning of the Persian New Year in March.

“In the next two months, the Afghan people have to see some change,” he said. “The Afghan people and politicians do not have the patience they had last year.”

He warned the Taliban against staying out of the peace process, saying that militants who opted for war would face serious consequences.

Mr Karzai said that all participants at Monday’s meeting wanted to bring “permanent peace” to his country.

He also said the country’s conflict was “not a war between Afghans” and stressed the “involvement of foreign elements”.

Mr Karzai referred to three groups of potential interlocutors — that led by Mullah Mansour; the faction led by Mullah Rasoul, and the Haqqani network.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks since the US and Nato formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan a year ago, and the militants are battling Afghan security forces on several fronts.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2016

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