ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that peace talks between representatives of the Taliban and an Afghan government delegation had concluded but would restart after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ends in two weeks.
The talks were held Tuesday night in Murree, a mountain resort 90 minutes north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.
“The participants exchanged views and ways and means to bring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani statement said. “It was agreed that for lasting peace in the region, each side would approach the process in sincerity and with full commitment.”
The two sides met Tuesday in what Afghan officials hoped would be a step toward negotiating a peace deal with the insurgent group and ending the country’s protracted war, Afghan and Pakistani officials said.
The gathering near Islamabad, under discussion for several weeks, was not the first time the two sides have met to discuss a cease-fire. Meetings between Taliban representatives and Afghan officials have taken place in recent months in Qatar, China and Norway.
But this meeting carried more significance because of Pakistan’s long-standing ties to the Taliban, as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to persuade Pakistan to play a significant role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. It was the first time such a senior-level Afghan delegation has met face-to-face with Taliban representatives.
“We have always had a pretty clear view of what Pakistan can and cannot do in terms of delivering the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table,” a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the peace efforts, said in a recent interview. “But we see, at this point, a sustained effort by the Pakistanis to support President Ghani’s effort.”
On Tuesday, Ghani’s office announced through its official Twitter account that “a delegation from the High Peace Council of Afghanistan has traveled to Pakistan for negotiations with the Taliban.”
The council is a body that includes former Taliban members. It was created in 2010 by then-President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with elements of the Taliban. The delegation also includes Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister, Hekmat Karzai, a cousin of the former president.
According to Pakistani officials, the Taliban sent four delegates representing “all top Taliban leaders.” A second U.S. official said the United States also sent representatives to the talks after being invited by the Afghan and Pakistani governments.
The meeting between the two sides took place after the end of the daily Ramadan fast, according to Pakistani officials. The talks continued past midnight.
It remains to be seen whether the talks will have any impact on the conflict, now nearing the 14-year mark. Even as meetings have taken place in various countries, the Taliban has mounted fierce offensives across Afghanistan and dispatched suicide bombers to attack government officials and symbols of official power in Kabul and elsewhere.
The second U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, said the fact that legitimate representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government were meeting was significant.
“That means something. . . . But how you get to a process where you start talking about substantive issues is a difficult question,” the official said.
Some analysts have suggested that the Taliban’s offensives are an attempt to strengthen its bargaining position ahead of potential peace negotiations. There is also growing concern in the Taliban about the emergence of the Islamic State, which has been wooing Taliban factions to defect and align with its cause. In Nangahar province, the Taliban is engaging in skirmishes with defectors operating under the Islamic State brand who have managed to seize control of several areas of the province. The specter of more fighters joining the Islamic State could prompt the Taliban’s leadership to agree to a political settlement with the government, some analysts say.
But there is also the question of which Taliban the Afghan government is negotiating with. The insurgency is far less cohesive today than it was in 1996, when it quickly seized power across Afghanistan. With its supreme leader, Mohammad Omar, not seen in years, many factions have become more independent from the Taliban’s core leadership. It remains unclear whether many Taliban commanders would even accept a peace agreement — or would instead continue fighting or would join the Islamic State.
Pakistan is viewed by some as a questionable intermediary. Many Afghans, including powerful political and military figures, remain suspicious of Islamabad and its motives. The Pakistani military and intelligence services have long been viewed in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as the godfathers of the Taliban, nurturing it as a proxy and providing haven to its leadership.
Pakistani officials on Tuesday said they are honest brokers.
“Pakistan, as a friend of Afghanistan, is trying to facilitate result-oriented talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” said a Pakistani security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity under government rules.
In a meeting Tuesday with local reporters and political analysts, Ghani said the meeting in Islamabad would focus on “confidence-building and preparing key points in the peace talks agenda,” and would set the stage for future discussions, according to a statement from his office.
Ghani said that peace talks would be led by the Afghans, suggesting that the Pakistanis would play a less visible role, and that the government was speaking with the insurgents from a position of strength, the statement said. He also said that women will continue to be part of the peace delegations.
“Our goal is reducing the violence level in the initial phase and then end it finally,” Ghani said, according to the statement.
Craig reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Missy Ryan in Washington, Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul and Shaiq Hussein in Islamabad contributed
to this report.