The first officially acknowledged peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul have concluded with an agreement to meet again after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, according to Pakistani officials.
Pakistan hosted Tuesday’s meeting in a step towards ending more than 13 years of war in Afghanistan, in which the Taliban have been fighting the government.
Officials from the US and China were observers in the talks held in the town of Murree, a hill resort on the outskirts of Islamabad, a statement from Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.
Both sides “expressed their collective desire to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region,” the ministry statement said.
“Participants recognised the need to develop confidence-building measures to engender trust among all stakeholders.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has pushed for the peace process and has encouraged closer ties with neighbouring Pakistan in a bid to achieve this goal, first announced the talks on Tuesday.
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.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the talks as a “breakthrough”, adding: “This process has to succeed.”
Sharif cautioned in remarks released by his office that the effort would be difficult and said Afghanistan’s neighbours and the international community should make sure “that nobody tries to derail this process”.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US welcomed the talks, calling them “an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace”.
In the past several months, there have been informal preliminary talks between Taliban representatives and Afghan figures, but Tuesday’s talks were the first official meetings.
The Taliban’s official spokesman has in the past disavowed the peace process, saying those meeting with Afghanistan’s government were not authorised to do so.
The group showed no sign of easing up on their bloody summer offensive, launching two suicide attacks in Kabul on Tuesday as talks were about to get under way.