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Third round of talks on Afghan peace begins in Pakistan

Delegates from China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US have met in Islamabad to thrash out a plan for renewing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Talks with the rebel group collapsed in mid-2015.

Officials from China, the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet in Islamabad

Pakistani foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz chairs the first ever round of four-way peace talks in Islamabad in January

As the meeting got underway Saturday, Pakistan's foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz said he hoped the delegates would finalize a roadmap for peace talks before the end of the day.

"In our view, a clear, well-defined and actionable roadmap for the peace process between the Afghan government and Taliban groups is important," he said.

"We have to exert all our efforts and energies for keeping the process on track."

The gathering in the Pakistani capital was the third round of four-country talks aimed at finding a way to get the Taliban to the same negotiating table as the Afghan government.

'No preconditions'

In January, the Islamist group said it would not enter into a direct dialogue with Kabul until a series of

preconditions had been met

. Its demands included the removal of the Taliban from UN and US blacklists, formal recognition of a political office for the group, and the release of political prisoners.

Aziz said Saturday there should be no preconditions to the peace negotiations. He also said the success of the peace efforts would hinge on how many Taliban groups were involved.

"We believe our collective efforts at this stage ... have to be aimed at persuading a maximum number of Taliban groups to join the peace talks," he said.

Stalled negotiations

Preliminary face-to-face talks between the insurgents and Afghan officials broke down in July after it became known that Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, who sanctioned the talks, had died two years earlier. The announcement sparked infighting within the group, fueling uncertainty about how competing factions would participate in the peace process.

Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told Reuters news agency last week that he was hopeful at least parts of the Taliban would agree to peace talks within six months.

"There might be groups among the Taliban who might be willing to talk and give up violence," Abdullah said.

Ongoing violence

Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan since the US and NATO formally ended their combat mission more than a year ago. Earlier this week, at least

20 people were killed

in a Taliban suicide bombing in the capital, Kabul. The group also managed to seize the northern city of Kunduz last year - their biggest capture of an urban area since 2001.

The protracted conflict has claimed thousands of civilian lives and left the economy in tatters.

nm/tj (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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