Kabul, Taliban Peace Talks End

Kabul, Taliban Peace Talks End

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- One-day peace talks between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives ended with both sides agreeing to meet again after the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

The ministry said in a statement the talks were held Tuesday at Murree, a hilly resort near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Representatives of China and the United States were also present during the meeting, it said.

Participants exchanged views on ways to bring peace and reconciliation to Afghanistan, where fighting has continued since the Taliban was removed from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001. Since taking office in September, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has made it a priority to find a peace settlement.

Both sides "expressed their collective desire to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region," the ministry statement said. "Participants recognized the need to develop confidence-building measures to engender trust among all stakeholders."

The next meeting would be held at a mutually convenient date after Ramadan ends later this month, it said.

In Kabul, Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the peace talks and praised Pakistan for hosting and thanked Washington and China for taking part.

"We believe that if there is a good and strong intention in the peace process, there will be good results," the statement said.

Tuesday's talks came after repeated informal meetings between Taliban and government representatives, most recently hosted by Qatar and Norway. The talks were the first formally acknowledged by the Afghan government; that and the semi-public nature of the talks suggested possible progress after years of frustration in trying to bring the two sides together.

Previous efforts to start a dialogue stalled, however, largely due the lack of trust and confidence between the two sides.

Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, Tuesday night called the holding of the talks "a major breakthrough" in comments recorded for Pakistani TV from the Norwegian capital Oslo, where he is on a three-day visit.

He said the overtness of the meeting was a positive development. "I hope there will be a positive outcome which will certainly be very helpful for peace and stability in Afghanistan," he said.

Ghani's office announced Tuesday that a delegation from the government's High Peace Council traveled to Islamabad to hold the talks. One official from the council said the government representatives included Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai.

Ghani said the talks aim to "change this meeting into a process of continuing talks," as well as to build trust and to develop the agenda for any negotiations, according to a statement by his office.

The president has sought Pakistan's help in bringing the Taliban to negotiations, since it is a traditional ally of the group. Still, Islamabad's hosting of the talks raises suspicion among some Afghan politicians, who believe Pakistan is aiming to wield dominance over their country.

Nasrullah Sadieqizada, an Afghan parliament member, called the talks "Pakistani propaganda."

However, the White House hailed the talks and praised the Pakistani government for helping facilitate the meeting.

"This is an important step in advancing prospects for a credible peace," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "The United States commends the government of Afghanistan's prioritization of peace and reconciliation efforts with the Taliban."