KABUL: Representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States gathered in Kabul on Monday called on the Taliban to resume peace talks with the Afghan government.
Senior officials from the four countries met for most of the day at the Presidential Palace amid tight security, a week after a first round of discussions in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
In a joint statement released by the Afghan Foreign Ministry, they said the talks “made progress on a roadmap toward initiating peace talks with Taliban groups."
It said they hope to bring the two sides together for talks “aimed at reduction of violence and establishing lasting peace in Afghanistan and the region."
The four-nation group “called on all Taliban groups to enter into early talks with the Afghan government,” and agreed to meet again in Islamabad on February 6.
The insurgents are not represented at the talks. An official close to the process said that another two “preparatory” meetings are expected to take place.
“There are different opinions about the methodologies and approaches in resuming these talks,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to journalists.
The roadmap would include “who do they want to talk to, on what timetable, what incentives are to be offered, and what kind of action will be taken with those people who want to talk and those who do not want to talk,” the official said.
"The meetings are part of a three-step process," said Abdul Hakim Mujahid of Kabul's High Peace Council, tasked with ending the war. Mujahid also served in the Taliban's 1996-2001 administration.
“The first step is to formulate a roadmap, the second is to invite the armed opposition to the negotiating table and the last step is the implementation of the peace plan,” Mujahid told The Associated Press.
Kabul held direct talks with the Taliban for the first time last summer in Islamabad, but that process collapsed after Afghanistan announced that longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had died more than two years ago in Pakistan
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary represented Pakistan at the meeting, Foreign Office Spokesman Qazi Khalilullah had confirmed.
Afghan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Shekib Mostaghni said the meeting would be attended by the same officials that met in Islamabad last week: Afghanistan's Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai, US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson, his Chinese counterpart Deng Xijun and the Pentagon's senior envoy to Pakistan, Lt. Gen. Anthony Rock.
The first round of the "roadmap" talks was held in Islamabad last week as the four nations try to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban.
During the meeting, Sartaj Aziz proposed four points to help guide the reconciliation process:
- Creating conditions to incentivise the Taliban to move away from using violence to pursue political goals and come to the negotiating table
- Sequencing actions and measures appropriately to pave the way for direct talks with the Taliban
- Using confidence-building measures to encourage Taliban groups to join the negotiating table
- A realistic and flexible roadmap which broadly defines steps and phases ─ but avoids unrealistic targets and deadlines ─ is important for charting the course of action
At last week's talks in Islamabad, Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to the Afghan Chief Executive, said Pakistan would unveil a list of Taliban members who are ready for talks, but no names have so far been released and Sartaj Aziz has refused to say whether Pakistan is in possession of such a list.
Analysts caution that any substantive talks or reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban are still a long way off.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan this winter, when fighting usually abates, underscoring a worsening security situation.
Last week, the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad was the target of an hours-long gun and bomb siege. The attack was claimed by the militant Islamic State group which has battled the Taliban for leadership of the insurgency in Nangarhar province.
Late Sunday a rocket launched by the militants landed very close to the Italian embassy compound. The foreign ministry in Rome reported no casualties and said it was unsure if their compound was the target.
Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the militants to seize more territory in an attempt to wrangle greater concessions during talks.
Pakistan hosted a milestone first round of talks directly with the Taliban in July 2015.
But the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar, sparking infighting within the group.
Afghanistan sees the support of Pakistan as vital to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
─ Mateen Haider contributed to the reporting of this story.