Kabul: Talks in Kabul on Tuesday between representatives of four countries trying to end Afghanistan's war with the Taliban are likely to set a date for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides, an Afghan official said.
Representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States are meeting in the Afghan capital for a fourth round of discussions setting conditions for eventual peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.
Javid Faisal, the deputy spokesman for Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told The Associated Press the delegates "should give a date for the first direct peace talks."
Delegates agreed at their last meeting in Islamabad on February 6 to work toward bringing the two sides together to restart a peace process derailed last summer by the revelation that the Taliban's one-eyed leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for more than two years — before the end of February.
"We are expecting a result of that agreement which should give us a date for the first direct peace talks," Faisal said. In remarks opening the meeting Tuesday, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said details of that first meeting would be announced before the end of February.
Earlier meetings set a roadmap for formal peace talks. The insurgency is now in its 15th year.
Details have not been made public, though officials close to the talks have said Kabul demands a reduction in violence as a sign of the Taliban's sincerity.
While the process may take months or even years, these preliminary meetings which do not include the Taliban — are setting conditions for a deal, including Taliban recognition of Afghanistan's constitution and sovereignty.
The four countries have called on the Taliban to enter peace talks with Kabul and said in earlier communiques they want the two sides to work toward cutting violence that has killed thousands of Afghan civilians since the insurgency started.
Taliban leaders, who fled across the Pakistan border to escape the 2001 US invasion, are believed to be harbored by Pakistani authorities, in particular the ISI intelligence agency, in cities including Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar.
While Pakistan denies providing safe havens for the insurgents, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has led accusations that the Taliban are a proxy force for Islamabad's policy of using Afghanistan as a battleground to thwart India's regional interests, which are mostly soft power and development aid.