Afghan officials and Taliban representatives will resume talks in Pakistan after the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Pakistan’s foreign office has said, following .
Representatives of China and the US also took part in discussions in the popular hill town resort of Murree, which is an hour’s drive from the capital Islamabad.
A statement by the Pakistani foreign ministry said both sides “were duly mandated by their respective leadership and expressed their collective desire to bring peace to and the region”.
Doubts had been raised about the value of a Pakistani-brokered meeting held between the two sides in the Chinese city of Urumqi in May after a spokesman said the militants involved had not been officially authorised to talk.
The Taliban have so far refused to comment on reports of the Tuesday meeting, which began with an iftar – the sunset meal when Muslims break their Ramadan fast – and continued until the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for peace and reconciliation process,” the statement said.
In the past, the Taliban have refused face-to-face meetings with what they call Afghanistan’s “puppet” government, insisting they would only negotiate with the US.
Although the Tuesday meeting was held under the auspices of the high peace council, a body established to operate at arm’s length to the government, the delegation included Hekmat Karzai, Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister and nephew of former president Hamid Karzai.
A Pakistani official said both sides accepted the need for “confidence-building measures”.
The government of the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has been anxious to secure ceasefires with the insurgents. The involvement of both Chinese and US diplomats underlines the powerful international consensus over the need for a political deal in Afghanistan. China is worried about the Islamist insurgencies in and Afghanistan spilling over into its western province of Xinjiang, home to a restive Muslim Uighur population.
There are also concerns in the US about the country’s long-term ability to sustain the billions of dollars needed to prop up Afghanistan’s outsized security forces as it struggles to cope with a raging Taliban-led insurgency.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest welcomed the Murree meeting as an “an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace”.
The other country that will be vital to the success of any peace process is Pakistan, which many Afghans believe remains wedded to its long-held policy of allowing the Taliban to operate freely in its territory in order to destabilise a troublesome neighbour.
Pakistan insists it is committed to peace. In May, the country’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, publicly assured Ghani that “the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan”.
That Tuesday’s talks were held in Pakistan and with the apparent support of the Taliban’s leadership could relieve some of the political pressure on the Afghan president, for his attempts to cultivate Pakistan with a series of concessions that would have been unthinkable under his predecessor.
Analysts warn a deal with the Taliban may not end the bloodshed in Afghanistan given the movement is increasingly split, with a homegrown branch of Islamic State attracting defectors from other militant groups.
Taliban field commanders are also said to be resentful of political figures within the movement who do not share the hardships of the frontline. Whereas some in the movement are keen to strike a deal with the Afghan government, many fighters are said to believe a military victory against the government is increasingly possible given the continuing withdrawal of US forces.