Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to hold talks with US and Chinese officials next month aimed at restarting stalled peace talks with the Taliban. The first round of talks in July collapsed amid Taliban infighting.
The announcement came after Pakistan's influential army chief General Raheel Sharif met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Sunday.
"Both sides have agreed to continue the peace process with groups of Taliban that are ready for negotiation and reconciliation and to act against those groups that resort to terrorist actions and violence," said a statement from Ghani's office.
The Afghan government is desperate to revive peace negotiations with the Islamist insurgents, who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. After the brief capture in September of the war-torn country's fifth-largest city, Kunduz, the Taliban's latest assault on the Sangin district of the southern Helmand province has again demonstrated their growing strength.
Sharif's visit comes just two weeks after Islamabad hosted a regional conference to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.
Strong yet divided Taliban
Pakistan mediated the first round of peace talks in July but with the announcement that the Taliban's leader Mullah Omar had died two years earlier, and the subsequent appointment of Mullah Akhter Mansoor as the new commander, the Islamist organization has experienced serious infighting.
A faction led by Mullah Dadullah has challenged the authority of Mansoor and pledged allegiance to the "Islamic State" (IS), which is making inroads into Afghanistan.
The Taliban has so far not given a response to a new round of Pakistan-moderated peace talks.
Internal divisions within the movement have raised questions of who will represent the Taliban and if any commitments of a deal could be implemented.
Pakistan's military said in a statement on Sunday that it had agreed with Afghanistan that elements of the Taliban that "still continue to pursue violence will be dealt with under a mutually worked-out framework."
History of distrust
Afghanistan needs Pakistan to play a positive role in any Taliban peace process, but Kabul has long remained suspicious that Islamabad is playing a double-game and supports the Taliban to weaken its northern neighbor and exert influence.
In particular, Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harboring Taliban militants along the border region, even as Pakistan itself has come under attack by the group.
Islamabad says it wants to facilitate peace talks and denies claims of interference in Afghanistan. The ISI intelligence service reportedly has long had connections with the Taliban and other militant Islamists groups in the region, charges Pakistan denies.
In a sign of how deep Afghan distrust runs, the country's intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil resigned this month after Ghani met with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in recent weeks to discuss reviving peace talks.
Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, met General Sharif in November.
The Pakistani military chief's visit to Kabul comes weeks after a trip to the United States, where officials put pressure on Pakistan to resume peace talks.
China also has an interest in resuming talks and has sought to play a greater diplomatic role in Afghanistan, where it has significant investments and interests in natural resource extraction.
cw/rg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)