Afghan Officials and Taliban Meet in Possible Step Toward Peace Talks

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from The New York Times,

An Afghan government delegation met with Taliban officials in the Pakistani capital for the first time on Tuesday, in a significant effort to open formal peace negotiations, according to Afghan, Pakistani and Western officials.

The Islamabad meeting, brokered by Pakistani officials after months of intense effort by President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan to get them more centrally involved in the peace process, was the most promising contact between the two warring sides in years. And it followed a series of less formal encounters between various Afghan officials and Taliban representatives in other countries in recent months.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the participants had agreed to continue the talks, with another meeting to be held after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

A peace process that would lead to the Taliban ending their insurgency has long been seen as a crucial part of the American strategy to stabilize Afghanistan after a costly 14-year war. But previous promising moments in that effort, including the formal opening of a Taliban political office in Qatar in 2013, either fizzled or backfired.

That may be the case now, as well: No sooner had the talks begun than it became apparent that the Taliban were divided about whether to engage in a process facilitated by Pakistan.

In an email exchange with a New York Times reporter early Wednesday morning, a representative of the Taliban’s official political office in Qatar said that the delegates to the Islamabad meeting were “not authorized” to attend such meetings, and suggested they had been “hijacked” by Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service to appear.

“We see it as the wrong direction toward peace, and the Pakistani-led process may cause more problems instead of solutions,” the official wrote. Later, the official added: “We will continue our political efforts for peaceful solution of the Afghan conflict.”

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