(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Pakistan yesterday hosted four-country talks aimed at luring the Afghan Taliban back to the negotiating table with the Kabul government, even as the insurgents wage an unprecedented winter campaign of violence.
The talks in Islamabad, announced in December, came as the Taliban's insurgency intensifies, particularly in the country's south, testing the capacity of Afghanistan's overstretched military and placing pressure on Pakistan to rein in its one-time proxies.
The delegations were led by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan ambassador Richard Olson and China's special envoy for Afghanistan ambassador Deng Xijun.
"The participants emphasised the immediate need for direct talks between representatives of the government of Afghanistan and representatives from Taliban groups in a peace process that aims to preserve Afghanistan's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity," a joint statement said after the meeting.
"The group would hold discussions on a roadmap at its next meeting to be held on 18th January 2016 in Kabul," it said.
Some analysts hope the added presence of China and the United States may help overcome mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad, though it remains unclear when the Taliban themselves will return to the negotiating table.
They are not part of this week's talks.
"The primary objective of the reconciliation process is to create conditions to bring the Taliban groups to the negotiation table and offer them incentives that can persuade them to move away from using violence," said Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's top foreign affairs official, as he opened the talks.
The so-called "roadmap" talks are meant to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between the Afghan government and the Islamist group, whose bloody insurgency shows no signs of abating more than 14 years after they were ousted from power by a US-led coalition.
Pakistan was among three countries that recognised the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime and it is widely seen as wielding influence over them today.
Aziz cautioned against "unrealistic targets and deadlines" and hinted it was unlikely major breakthroughs would be announced soon.
"Keeping in view the sensitive nature of the group's work, it should be our endeavour to keep the work of this group out of media glare, as much as possible," he said.
Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Centre, said the discussions gave "cautious hope" that peace negotiations can soon begin again in earnest.
A senior Taliban source from Mansour's faction told AFP that Pakistan had been in touch with Taliban leaders, but the group was waiting to see whether their rivals from Rasool's faction were also likely to attend future talks.
"As far as I know, the Taliban leadership is willing to attend any such meeting in future but we will also see which other Afghan group or a Taliban splinter group will be invited for these proposed peace talks," he said.
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