Powers meet on Afghanistan expect talks to resume by March

United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China have gathered in Kabul to set date for Afghan peace talks

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani (C) chairs the fourth round of four-way peace talks at the presidential palace in Kabul on February 23, 2016.

Updated Feb 28, 2016

Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China gathered in Kabul on Tuesday to set a date for peace talks with the Taliban since a previous round in the peace process broke down last year. 

Officials from the four countries said at a meeting in Islamabad last month that 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 said Tuesday’s meeting would enable direct meetings to open soon and repeated a call for the Taliban to join the talks.

"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.

The Chief of the Pakistan Army General Raheel Sharif held a meeting on Monday with officials from Qatar, where the Taliban holds a political office, to prepare the way for Tuesday’s meeting, the fourth in a series of quadrilateral encounters aiming to lay ground for full peace talks.

The Taliban, which has been riven by factional infighting after the death of the previous leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, has not yet given a clear indication about whether it will take part in any talks.

While a breakaway faction of Taliban, rejecting the negotiations and the new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, has stated the preconditions for taking parts in any talks, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces.

But officials in Kabul are hopeful of persuading at least some parts of the movement to join the talks.

"I think there's a lot of Taliban that want to come to the peace table," the continuing commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan General 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 there would be no representatives at the meeting on Tuesday.

Since the withdrawal of most international troops from combat in 2014, the Taliban has stepped up its insurgency, leading to Tuesday’s four-way talks in Kabul. 

Afghan officials confirmed over the weekend that troops had been withdrawn from two key districts in Helmand, leaving the entire northern half of the inconsistent province to the hands of rebels.

In the meantime, rebels continue to carry out suicide attacks, with 14 people being killed in a clinic during one of the assaults in Parwan Province north of Kabul on Monday.

TRTWorld and agencies