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Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China began a third round of talks in Islamabad on February 6 to lay the groundwork for peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

Islamabad is expected to have a key role in bringing the Taliban, which is based in Pakistan, to the table eventually.

But the two sides, after more than a decade of war, remain far apart. Afghan leaders have vowed to wipe out any insurgents who do not join the peace process.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has adhered to its demands for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan before it will negotiate. The Taliban is also demanding the release of Taliban prisoners and the establishment of some form of Islamic rule.

"Hopes for peace are increasing because the United States and China are involved. These two world powers have a great influence on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and can pressure both countries to encourage the armed opposition to come to the negotiating table," Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a senior member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, told the Associated Press before the start of the talks.

Based on reporting by AP and Interfax
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