ISLAMABAD: Direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban are ‘expected to take place’ by the end of the month, representatives from four countries involved in pre-cursor roadmap negotiations said in a joint statement in Islamabad.The statement by delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States came after a third round of talks between the four powers and is the strongest indication yet the Taliban are willing to return to negotiations six months after an earlier round of direct dialogue fell away.
It comes as the insurgents wage an unprecedented winter campaign of violence across Afghanistan, more than 14 years after they were driven out of power by US-led NATO forces.“The Group stressed that the outcome of the reconciliation process should be a political settlement that results in the cessation of violence, and durable peace in Afghanistan,” the statement said. “Towards this end, the QCG (Quadrilateral Coordination Group) countries agreed to continue joint efforts for setting a date for direct peace talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban groups expected to take place by the end of February 2016. The statement added the group would hold its next meeting in Kabul on February 23.Pakistan’s role is seen as key in persuading the Taliban to return to talks.
The first round of the roadmap talks was held in Islamabad last month, where delegates began laying the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Islamist group.A second round was held in Kabul on January 18 which urged the Taliban groups to enter into early talks with the Afghan government without preconditions.The statement added the four countries ‘called on all Taliban groups to join the peace talks’.Pakistan’s advisor for Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said at the meeting as many Taliban groups as possible must be persuaded to join any upcoming peace discussions with the Afghan government. He said a joint effort would help persuade the Taliban to join the process and lead to a ‘significant reduction in violence’. “We believe our collective efforts at this stage, including through supportive CBMs, have to be aimed at persuading the maximum number of Taliban groups to join the peace talks,” Aziz said during his opening statement. “In our view, a clear, well-defined and actionable roadmap for the peace process between the Afghan government and Taliban groups is important.”