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Talks On Afghan Peace Process Start In Islamabad

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has pushed Pakistan to help in negotiating with the Taliban.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has pushed Pakistan to help in negotiating with the Taliban.

Diplomats from Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and China have begun talks in Islamabad to try to draw up a plan for peace talks between in Afghanistan's government and the Taliban.

The talks in Pakistan's capital on January 11 include Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, and a senior official from the United States and China. The Taliban is not included in the meeting.

The Pakistani prime minister's foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, opened the meeting, saying the main goal should be to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table and consider giving up violence.

"It is therefore important that preconditions are not attached to the start of the negotiation process. This we argue will be counterproductive," he said.

"The threat of use of military action against irreconcilables cannot precede the offer of talks to all the groups."

Javed Faisal, spokesman for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, said the meeting was focusing on establishing "the mechanism" for direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban in the future.

Faisal said Pakistan was presenting a list of Taliban militants who would be willing to negotiate with Afghanistan’s government on bringing an end to the Taliban's 14-year insurgency in Afghanistan.

Faisal said Pakistan had also agreed to end financial support to Taliban fighters based in Pakistani cities and to bar insurgents based in Pakistan from resettling in Afghanistan.

The agreement, he added, will include "bilateral cooperation on eliminating terrorism."

Kabul has long accused Islamabad of covertly supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the meeting will be an opportunity to further the U.S. partnership with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China in support of "an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation."

The talks come as the Taliban has been waging a deadly winter campaign of violence in Afghanistan, unleashing deadly bombings in the capital, threatening to overrun a strategic southern province, and attacking a foreign consulate.

Analysts say the Taliban is trying to strengthen its negotiating hand amid a renewed international push to revive peace talks.

A previous peace process in 2015 ground to an abrupt halt after it was disclosed that the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for two years.

The revelation, confirmed later by the Taliban, threw the militant group into disarray -- resulting in factional infighting that highlighted a power struggle for leadership of the group.

Different Taliban factions remain divided over whether to participate in any future talks.

Some elements within the Taliban have signaled that they may be willing to send negotiators at some point.

But other factions remain opposed to any form of negotiation with the government in Kabul.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP