ISLAMABAD: Afghan officials said a new round of peace talks with the Taliban will take place next week in China.
Pakistan brokered and hosted the inaugural dialogue between the two sides earlier this month.
The meeting July 7 in the Pakistani tourist town of Murree was the first direct interaction between the Afghan government and the Taliban in 14 years.
Chinese and American officials also attended as “observers.”
At the end of several hours of “preliminary” talks, both sides had agreed to meet again very soon.
Afghan officials with knowledge of the peace process say a possible “cease-fire” will be high on the agenda in next week’s meeting and discussions will mostly focus on “mutual trust-building” steps.
The Taliban has not officially commented on the announcement.
Key leaders of the Islamist insurgency are allegedly sheltering in Pakistan and are alleged to have links to the neighboring country’s spy agency.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington Thursday, Tariq Fatemi, Pakistan’s minister of state for foreign affairs, emphasized Islamabad does not control the Taliban.
Fatemi did, however, say Islamabad would continue to use its “limited influence” with the Afghan insurgent group to build on the opening meeting Pakistan hosted earlier this month.
“It is a small step but we wish to transform it into a process rather than merely an event,” he said.
He said he hoped a “deeper engagement” between the Afghan government and Taliban could lead to a cessation of hostilities in Afghanistan.
Last week, fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Omar, in his annual Eid felicitation message, also endorsed the peace talks as religiously “legitimate.”
Omar added he is not opposed to peaceful negotiations if they can help end “U.S.-led foreign occupation” of Afghanistan and establish an Islamic system in the country.
Issues to be discussed
Soon after the first round of discussions with the Taliban, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had urged the insurgent group to bring its demands in writing to the table for the next round of discussions.
The nascent Afghan peace process is believed to be the result of an improved relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Fatemi credited Ghani’s efforts aimed at promoting national stability, relations with Pakistan and regional peace.
“We see in him [Ghani] an excellent partner and together we can pursue the common objectives. We have a common border – we should have greater trade and greater economic cooperation,” he said.
Fatemi said that around 190,000 Pakistani security troops are engaged in major counterterrorism operations near the border with Afghanistan.