The date for resumption of direct talks between Kabul and Taliban is likely to be announced this week when senior officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States sit together as part of ongoing efforts to strike a peace deal in the war-torn country.
The fourth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) will take place in the Afghan capital on Tuesday.
A senior Pakistani official familiar with the working of the group told The Express Tribune the date for the formal resumption of Afghan peace talks will be disclosed after the four-way talks.
Although the official did not provide any further details, the face-to-face meeting between the Afghan government officials and Taliban interlocutors is likely within a week after the QCG huddle. The venue may either be Islamabad or Beijing.
The groundwork for this purpose was reportedly finalised during the secret visit of a two-member Afghan Taliban delegation led by the head of the group’s political office in Qatar. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai and Qari Deen Muhammad travelled to Islamabad on February 6 when senior officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US last held talks to finalise the roadmap for the Afghan reconciliation process.
During informal talks with the group, the Taliban delegation reportedly shared a list of their negotiators and also agreed to sit across the table with Kabul’s representatives by the end of February. This was reason the QCG in its last meeting expressed the hope that direct peace talks could take place by the month-end.
The QCG countries also agreed to continue their efforts for setting a date for this purpose.
An insider said the group was also contemplating whether to keep the meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban a secret until it took place. The final decision, however, will be made in the QCG’s next meeting.
In reality, the official added, the process of negotiations had already begun when the two-member Afghan Taliban team held ‘informal’ talks with the QCG group in Islamabad. He explained the immediate priority of peace talks was to ensure curbing violence.
The Taliban, he said, will be persuaded to announce a ceasefire while the Afghan government will be asked to take certain confidence-building measures for creating a ‘conducive’ atmosphere for talks.
The two sides are to meet again after a gap of seven months. The first-ever direct talks took place in July last year. But the second round was called off abruptly after the confirmation of the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.
While Afghanistan-Pakistan ties deteriorated in subsequent months, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad in December for the Heart of Asia conference thawed relations.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2016.