Taliban Invited to Afghan Peace Talks by March

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Kabul: Direct peace talks between Afghanistan and Taliban chiefs are expected to take place by next Monday, Afghan leaders and officials from the United States, China and Pakistan said Tuesday.

Pakistan has agreed to host the talks, said a joint statement by Afghanistan and its three partners in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group after meeting in Kabul.

The four states “invite all Taliban and other groups to participate through their authorized representatives in the first round of direct peace talks with the Afghan government expected to take place by the first week of March 2016,” said the 

“Pakistan has graciously offered to host this round of talks in Islamabad,” it added.

Delegates from Afghanistan, China, the US and Pakistan met in the capital for a fourth round of talks aimed at forming a path back to the nascent peace process, which was interrupted by last summer’s announcement that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died.

Taliban representatives have been notably absent from the process so far.

Earlier Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani told participants that he wanted the Kabul meeting to “draft the details of direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban before the end of February.

“To end the conflict and bloodshed in the country, the government of Afghanistan once again calls on Taliban groups to take part in peace talks,” Rabbani added.

The first round of attempts to bring the militants back to the negotiating table began in Islamabad in January, followed by two more meetings in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Also on Tuesday, President Ashraf Ghani announced he is replacing Rabbani as head the High Peace Council, the government body responsible for negotiating with Taliban, without specifying the reasons.

Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gailani, an influential leader among the Pashtun who make up a large number of the Taliban, will take his place.

 

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