Powers aim to revive Afghan peace talks with Taliban by end-February

A member of the Taliban © Stringer Afghanistan / Reuters
Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China have agreed to push for direct talks with the Taliban by the end of February. The prospects for a peace plan are unclear, as the insurgent group still doesn’t trust the US-backed Kabul government.

In a statement following the meeting on Saturday in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, officials from the four countries said they “agreed to continue joint efforts for setting a date for direct peace talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban groups expected to take place by the end of February 2016.”

Kabul, Islamabad, Washington and Beijing have been working on the groundwork for talks with the Taliban, which has made significant military gains since the official withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

Rival factions competing for leadership inside the insurgent movement expressed conflicting views on joining the negotiations, but Kabul and other mediators were hopeful that at least moderates inside the Taliban would be willing to participate.

Senior members of the Afghan Taliban said they had decided not to participate in Saturday's talks, objecting to the presence of both the US and the Afghan government.

“We believe in dialogue and feel that all the issues can be resolved through negotiations, but we don't have any trust in the US and puppet Afghan government,” Reuters quoted a senior member aligned with Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, leader of the largest Taliban faction.

Earlier on Thursday, the Afghanistan government’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah told Reuters that Kabul’s security agencies had talked to some moderate factions inside the Taliban who might be ready to cease violence and start talking. Abdullah said he expects direct talks with the Taliban leadership to begin “sooner than six months,” despite continuing offensives and terror attacks the militant group is carrying out in Afghanistan’s major cities.

Talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have been on hold since last year after it became known that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the movement's notorious founder and leader, had been dead for more than two years, leaving the group deeply divided.

While the US-backed Kabul government believes talks with the Taliban may end the 15-year war, the insurgent movement is demanding political recognition, removal from the UN blacklist and the release of detainees.

The Taliban evolved in the early 1990s from the Mujahedeen groupings fighting against Soviet troops stationed in Afghanistan between 1980 and 1989.

Following the US-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban re-emerged in the mid-2000s and now controls large parts of the country.