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Afghan Government, Taliban To Continue Peace Talks

File photo of Afghan Taliban representatives in Qatar.
File photo of Afghan Taliban representatives in Qatar.

Pakistan's government says a meeting on July 7 between Afghan government and Afghan Taliban representatives ended with an agreement to continue talks toward achieving peace and reconciliation.

The peace talks were the first to be officially acknowledged between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul.

A July 8 statement from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which hosted the meeting, says it was agreed that "for lasting peace in the region, each side would approach the process in sincerity and with full commitment."

Afghan officials told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai and Taliban representative Mullah Jalil attended the talks in Islamabad. Representatives of China and the United States also were present.

"Participants recognized the need to develop confidence-building measures to engender trust among all stakeholders," the ministry said.

The parties "agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for peace and reconciliation," with the next meeting to be held after Ramadan, which ends around July 17.

The development marks a tentative step towards ending more than 13 years of war in Afghanistan -- a war in which the Taliban have been fighting Afghanistan’s internationally backed government in hopes of reestablishing their hard-line Islamist regime that had been toppled by U.S.-led military intervention in late 2001.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has pushed for the peace process and has encouraged closer ties with neighboring Pakistan, first announced the talks on July 7.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States welcomed the talks.

Earnest called the meeting "an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace."

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the talks as a "breakthrough" and said: "This process has to succeed."

Sharif cautioned in remarks released by his office that the effort would be difficult.

He said Afghanistan's neighbors and the international community should make sure "that nobody tries to derail this process."

In the past several months, there have been informal preliminary talks between Taliban representatives and Afghan figures, but the July 7 talks were their first official meeting.

Previous informal meetings have been held at venues outside of Afghanistan and have resulted in little concrete progress.

The Taliban's official spokesman in the past has disavowed the tentative peace process, saying those meeting with Afghanistan's government were not authorized to do so.

With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP