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Taliban, govt hold initial talks on peace

By Agencies in Islamabad, Pakistan | China Daily | Updated: 2015-07-09 07:50

Pakistani PM hails meeting as a 'breakthrough' while suicide bomb attacks continue in Kabul

The first official peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul concluded with an agreement to meet again after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, officials said on Wednesday.

Pakistan hosted the meeting in a tentative step toward ending more than 13 years of war in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been trying to re-establish their hard line Islamist government after it was toppled by a US-led military intervention in 2001.

The next round of talks is planned for Aug 15 and 16 in Doha, capital of Qatar, sources close to the participants said.

The meeting was hailed as a "breakthrough" by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

But it was far from clear whether the budding peace process could end an escalating conflict that kills hundreds of Afghans every month.

The Taliban's leadership is divided over the peace process, and several commanders have defected to follow the jihadist Islamic State.

As Pakistan talks were ongoing, the Taliban launched two suicide bomb attacks in Kabul on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding three.

A US drone strike also killed a former Taliban commander who had pledged loyalty to Islamic State and had seized territory in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

US, China involved

Officials from the United States and China were observers at the talks held on Tuesday in Murree, a hill resort near Islamabad, a statement from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said.

"The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for peace and the reconciliation process," the statement said.

In recent months, informal preliminary contacts have been made between Taliban representatives and Afghan figures, but Tuesday's event was the first official meeting.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Washington welcomed the talks in Pakistan, describing them as "an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China backed the process and was in touch with all sides. China hopes peace in Afghanistan will help it keep stability in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry called the meeting "a first step toward reaching peace" and confirmed another round would be held next week.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has promoted the peace process and encouraged closer ties with neighboring Pakistan in a bid to achieve this goal, first announced the talks on Tuesday.

Sharif cautioned in remarks that the effort would be difficult and said Afghanistan's neighbors and the international community should ensure "nobody tries to derail this process".

Reuters - Xinhua - AFP

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