ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday said Afghan and Taliban representatives had agreed to meet again after landmark through-the-night talks aimed at ending the militants’ 13-year insurgency.
A delegation of the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC), the body tasked with opening negotiations, met the Taliban in the town of Murree, a hill station north of Islamabad, the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.
Few details were released about what was discussed, but a foreign ministry spokesman said the talks lasted through the night, concluding at sehri, the traditional pre-dawn meal Muslims eat during the fasting month of Ramadan.
“The participants exchanged views on ways and means to bring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” the statement said, adding that the two sides had agreed to approach the talks with “sincerity and full commitment.”
“The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for [the]peace and reconciliation process,” it added.
The next round of talks will be held at a “mutually convenient date” after Ramadan, which is due to end around July 18.
Several informal meetings have been held in recent months between Taliban representatives and Afghan officials and activists.
But the talks in Pakistan, led on the HPC side by deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, are seen as a significant step.
It is the first time Kabul has publicly acknowledged that someone as senior as a government minister was talking directly to the Taliban – though some earlier meetings were shrouded in secrecy, so it was not entirely clear who took part.
The foreign ministry statement said US and Chinese representatives were present during Tuesday’s meeting.
There have been several informal meetings between the Taliban and Afghan officials at venues outside Afghanistan in recent months as Kabul seeks a negotiated end to the insurgents’ 13-year fight, but little in the way of concrete progress.
The Taliban leadership have not officially confirmed, but a militant source told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday that they would attend, saying the Islamabad round would be an extension of meetings held in China in May.
Official efforts to open negotiations with the Taliban have borne little fruit, but informal talks have taken place several times in the recent past, veiled in secrecy.
The Taliban have said they took part in informal talks in Norway with an Afghan delegation, reportedly including women, as well as meetings in Qatar in May.
The Taliban’s annual summer offensive is in full swing, with twin suicide attacks in Kabul on Tuesday, one targeting a North Atlantic Treaty Organization convoy and one an Afghan intelligence office, highlighting the precarious security situation.