Taliban, Afghan officials end peace talks agreeing to meet again

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2015 1:13 AM

By Kay Johnson

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The first officially acknowledged peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul ended with an agreement to meet again after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Pakistan said on Wednesday.

Pakistan hosted the meeting in a tentative step towards ending more than 13 years of war in neighboring Afghanistan, in which the Taliban have been fighting the government in hopes of re-establishing their hard-line Islamist regime that was toppled by U.S.-sponsored military intervention in 2001.

The next round of meetings is tentatively planned for Aug. 15 and 16 in Doha, the capital of Qatar, according to sources close to the participants.

The talks were hailed as a "breakthrough" by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But it's far from clear whether the process can end the fighting, given that the Taliban's leadership is divided on the issue of talks and several commanders have already defected to the rival jihadist Islamic State.

Officials from the United States and China were observers in the talks held on Tuesday at Murree, a hill resort on the outskirts of Islamabad, a statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry said.

"The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for peace and the reconciliation process," the statement said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has pushed for the peace process and has encouraged closer ties with neighboring Pakistan in a bid to achieve this goal, first announced the talks on Tuesday.

Sharif cautioned in remarks released by his office that the effort would be difficult and said Afghanistan's neighbors and the international community should make sure "that nobody tries to derail this process".

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States welcomed the talks, calling them "an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace".

In the past several months, there have been informal preliminary talks between Taliban representatives and Afghan figures, but Tuesday's talks were the first official meetings.

The Taliban's official spokesman has in the past disavowed the tentative peace process, saying those meeting with Afghanistan's government were not authorized to do so.

(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Pakistan. Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)