Officials to begin talks aimed at reviving Afghan peace process

, Pakistan, China and the United States are to begin talks aimed at reviving the Afghan peace process .

Officials from the four countries will meet in Islamabad on Monday, Pakistani government sources said, in what they hope will be a first step towards resuming stalled negotiations, and eventually ending 14 years of fighting Taliban insurgents. The are not expected to attend the talks.

The Islamist militants have stepped up their violent campaign in the last year to topple the government in Kabul, which has struggled since most foreign troops left at the end of 2014.

High-profile suicide attacks in the capital and significant territorial losses in Helmand province have underlined how far Afghanistan remains from peace without major Taliban factions on board.

A previous peace process last year was stopped after the Taliban announced that their founder, Mullah Omar, had been dead for two years, throwing the group into disarray and factional infighting.

Kabul has been trying to limit expectations of a breakthrough at Monday’s talks . It said the aim was to work out a road map for peace negotiations and a way of assessing whether those remained on track.

Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister, Hekmat Karzai, and ’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, would attend the talks, Pakistani foreign office sources told Reuters.

Besides an official from , either the US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Olson, or the American ambassador would represent Washington in Islamabad, a US State Department official said.

“It’ll be an opportunity to further our partnership with Afghanistan, Pakistan and China in support of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation, which is what we’ve said all along we want to see,” the State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said.

“We’re obviously looking forward to ... trying to make some progress here on what has been a very difficult issue.”

Last month, Afghanistan turned to Pakistan, with which it shares a porous border, enabling the Taliban to operate bases on both sides, for help in reviving the peace talks.

The Taliban, which are fighting to restore strict Islamic rule in place before the group was removed from power in 2001, are divided on whether to participate in any future talks. Some elements have signalled they may be willing to send negotiators at some point, but others remain opposed to any form of negotiation with Kabul.

Afghanistan suffered one of its bloodiest years on record in 2015. The number of civilians killed is expected to have surpassed the record high of more than 3,180 the previous year, the United Nations said. The figure for 2014 brought the number killed since 2009 to more than 17,000.

Source : theguardian[dot]com
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