New round of Kabul meetings hope to set date for Afghan peace talks
At a meeting in Islamabad last month, officials from the four countries said face-to-face talks between the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban should begin by the end of February.
Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani repeated a call for the Taliban to join the talks and said Tuesday’s meeting would prepare the way for direct meetings to open soon.
“We want this group to design the details for talks between Afghan government and groups of Taliban by the end of February,” he said at the opening of the meeting.
On Monday, the powerful chief of the Pakistan army, Gen. Raheel Sharif met officials from Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office, to prepare the way for Tuesday’s meeting, the fourth in a series of quadrilateral encounters aimed at laying the ground for full peace talks.
The Taliban, riven by factional infighting since last year’s announcement of the death of the movement’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar some two years earlier, has not yet given a clear indication about whether it will take part in any talks.
New leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has laid down preconditions for taking part in any talks, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces, while a breakaway faction that opposes him has rejected any negotiations.
But officials in Kabul have expressed hopes that at least some parts of the movement can be persuaded to join.
“I think there’s a lot of Taliban that want to come to the peace table,” the outgoing commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Campbell said earlier this month. “That’s what’s going to be hard, to get all the right people to the table.”
A Taliban spokesman said representatives would not be at the meeting on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s four-way talks in Kabul come against a backdrop of continuing violence and increasing military pressure from the Taliban, which has stepped up its insurgency since the withdrawal of most international troops from combat in 2014.
Over the weekend, Afghan officials confirmed that troops had pulled out of two key districts in Helmand, leaving the entire northern half of the volatile province in the hands of the insurgents.
At the same time, insurgents have kept up their suicide bombing campaign, with 14 people killed in an attack on a clinic in Parwan province north of Kabul on Monday.