KABUL/ISLAMABAD • The first official peace talks between the Afghan Taleban and the government in Kabul have ended with an agreement to meet again after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Pakistan hosted the meeting in a tentative step towards ending more than 13 years of war in neighbouring Afghanistan, where the Taleban has been trying to re-establish its hard-line Islamist regime after it was toppled by a United States-led military intervention in 2001. The next round of talks is tentatively scheduled for Aug 15 and 16 in Qatar, according to sources yesterday.
Tuesday's meeting at a hill station north of Islamabad, observed by US and Chinese officials, extended long into the night and was hailed as a "breakthrough" by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But it is not clear whether the budding peace process could end an escalating conflict that kills hundreds of Afghans every month.
The talks began hours after suspected Taleban suicide bomb attacks in the Afghan capital struck a convoy of foreign troops and a compound of the country's intelligence agency.
Pakistan says that it hosted the meeting "as part of the commitment to facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process".
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US welcomed the talks, calling them "an important step towards advancing prospects for a credible peace".
Pakistan has been urging the Taleban's exiled leadership to enter peace talks and the insurgents may also be motivated by the trend of some of its commanders breaking off to declare loyalty to rival militants Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Separately, officials said two drone strikes this week targeting militants loyal to ISIS in the eastern province of Nangarhar killed dozens of fighters, including the movement's second-in-command in Afghanistan.
He was identified by Afghan intelligence as Gul Zaman, who had been in Achin district where ISIS sympathisers have taken territory from rival Taleban insurgents.
Taleban and other Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on Afghan and foreign forces this year. As security has deteriorated, a handful of Afghan districts have fallen under Taleban control.