Pakistan

Afghan president says peace delegation meeting Taliban in Pakistan

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday he had sent a delegation to Pakistan to meet Taliban representatives, his first acknowledgement of official talks with insurgents who are fighting to topple the government in Kabul.

The tentative step towards full peace negotiations aimed at ending more than 13 years of war came hours after suspected Taliban suicide bomb attacks in the Afghan capital struck a convoy of foreign troops and a compound of the country’s intelligence agency.

The blasts killed at least one person and wounded three, according to Afghan and foreign officials.

Taliban and other Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on Afghan and foreign forces this year, after most coalition troops withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

As security has deteriorated, a handful of Afghan districts have fallen under Taliban control. The growing presence of fighters loyal to Islamic State, mostly made up of disgruntled members of the Taliban, is an added concern.

On Tuesday, a suicide car bomber slammed into a vehicle carrying foreign forces in eastern Kabul, wounding at least two people. The blast blew the vehicle into a wall, leaving behind an empty, charred hulk.

The U.S.-led military coalition said there were no fatalities, but declined to give further details.

A foreigner and a bystander were wounded in the incident, police spokesman Ebadullah Karimi said.

In the second attack, suspected Taliban fighters raided a compound used by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Karimi added, killing one security guard and wounding another.

“Three suicide bombers were involved in the attack,” he said. “One detonated his explosives, two were shot dead by security forces.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.

PEACE PROCESS SEEN TAKING YEARS

On Tuesday afternoon, Ghani announced on Twitter he had sent a peace delegation to Pakistan for negotiations with the Taliban.

The meeting could be a step towards starting a formal peace process with the insurgent group whose hardline Islamist government was ousted from power by a U.S.-led military offensive in 2001.

Ghani has pushed for the peace process, and has encouraged closer ties with neighboring Pakistan in a bid to achieve his goal.

Many Afghans remain wary of Pakistan, however, blaming it for helping to bring the Taliban to power in the mid-1990s and supporting the militants after their ouster.

Ghani has warned previously that any peace process will likely take years, and that history shows violence often increases along with talks as both sides seek negotiating power.

Although the first official acknowledgement, Tuesday’s announcement follows several rounds of unofficial contact between prominent Afghan figures and Taliban representatives.

About 9,800 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011. The majority are training Afghan forces.

On a visit to Kabul on Saturday, U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona called for U.S. troops to stay longer than planned to promote stability.

The current schedule is for the U.S. military to draw down to an embassy presence by the end of 2016. -Reuters

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