KABUL: Afghanistan expects to hold direct talks with the Taliban by the end of this month, an official said on Sunday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Shakib Mostaghani told reporters that Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States had agreed on a roadmap towards peace talks at a meeting in Islamabad the day before.

He said the government hoped to “put an end to the futile violence which is imposed on our people”.

The last direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban broke down after just one session last summer when Kabul announced that Taliban’s reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar died two years ago.

The next four-country meeting is scheduled for Feb 23 in Kabul. The Taliban are not taking part in those talks, which aim to lay the groundwork for peace talks.

At the Saturday meeting, the third since the peace process was re-launched last month, the four countries called for direct negotiations between the government and the Taliban to take place soon, despite an escalation in the war since the drawdown of the international combat mission in 2014.

Afghan forces have struggled to fight off the Taliban, who have spread their footprint across the country, leading to high casualties among Afghan forces.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2016

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