The Taliban raised the issues of the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, United Nations sanctions, and prisoners of war at its first official meeting with Afghan government representatives in Pakistan, officials said on Thursday.
Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister Hekmat Karzai, who headed the Afghan delegation, told the country’s TOLO News channel that rumours the delegation agreed to end large-scale military attacks were not correct, adding that a second round of talks has already been planned.
Meanwhile, Pakistani media claim that "the Afghan Taliban have agreed to a ceasefire if Pakistan and China guarantee a united national government."
According to a report from Pakistan’s Express Tribune daily an immediate demand for a ceasefire was issued by Afghan government representatives, who stated that negotiations cannot proceed if Taliban attacks continue. The Taliban responded by requesting a united national government” which will include the group's top leadership.
The Afghan government met with Taliban representatives on Tuesday in Pakistan's popular tourist resort of Murree near the country’s capital Islamabad for direct talks for the first time.
Tuesday’s talk was attended by two “senior” Pakistani officials, as well as representatives from China and the United States.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the fact that talks were held “a major breakthrough.”
The Taliban delegation stuck to its key demand for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the conflict-ridden country, a military official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
"I can't confirm these rumors right now. We will announce our official stance soon," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said by text message during the meeting.
The talks started after the Taliban intensified its activities when the Afghan government signed a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States and later inked a similar pact with NATO after the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission ended at the end of 2014.
The US has pledged to keep an additional 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan this year, bringing the number of its residual troops there to 10,800.
The Afghan government has negotiated with the Taliban in Qatar, China, Norway and Dubai in recent months to find a way to end a conflict which has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 40,000 civilians since 2001.
But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani faces growing discontent from lawmakers back in Kabul despite the long sought for peace talks.
After rejecting the president's third candidate for defence minister, the lawmakers in Afghanistan’s lower house are now threatening to impeach the government’s interior minister, Noor ul Haq Ulomi, alleging he has failed to put a stop to militant attacks.
In addition, the members of the upper house have been on strike since Sunday in protest over the government not responding to their concerns.
Afghanistan's long-lasting issue of ethnic politics has also played a role in the latest disputes, as Ghani is accused of favoring his Pashtun kin by rival Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik. There are also Hazara and Uzbek factions in the parliament struggling to gain more influence.
Though the Afghan government is finally talking with the Taliban face-to-face for the first time, a growing number of people believe Ghani’s prime ministership and his government will not survive long enough to meaningfully pursue negotiations any further.