By Amjad Ali
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani official said on Wednesday that talks on how to restart a tentative peace dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents would be held in Islamabad next month, contradicting an Afghan statement that they would be in Kabul. The confusion over the venue highlighted the fraught, multi-country process to coax the Taliban to the bargaining table and end more than 14 years of war since the U.S.-backed intervention to break the hard-line Islamist movement's grip in Afghanistan.
"Between Jan. 10 and Jan. 15, the first meeting will take place in Islamabad, not in Kabul," Sartaj Aziz, senior adviser on foreign affairs to Pakistan’s prime minister, told a press conference.
He said the meeting, involving officials from the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, had been decided on this month when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Islamabad at the Heart of Asia conference. On Tuesday, an official in Ghani’s office said the talks would be held next week in Kabul, following the weekend visit of powerful Pakistani military chief, General Raheel Sharif.
The reason for the contradictory statements was not immediately clear and Afghan officials could not be reached. Neither side has said Taliban representatives themselves would attend.
Diplomats have been working to revive the nascent peace process, which broke down in July following an initial round, after which news was leaked of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar more than two years earlier. The United States and China, which is planning to invest billions in Pakistan, have both pushed for peace talks.
However, some Afghan officials have opposed Pakistan hosting the talks, accusing their nuclear-armed neighbor of harboUring Taliban leaders and sponsoring the insurgency for its own regional strategy. Pakistan rejects the accusation and says it has also suffered heavily from terrorism. On Tuesday, at least 23 people were killed and 75 wounded when a suicide bomber attacked a government office in northwestern Pakistan.
The Taliban, which has grown in strength this year following the withdrawal of most foreign troops, has so far ruled out taking part in any talks as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan.
But the movement has splintered into rival factions since the 2013 death of Mullah Omar was announced, with many rejecting the authority of the new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Richard Balmforth)