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Four countries meeting held today in Afghanistan

Kabul: Today, a second round of four-country talks aimed at reviving peace negotiations with the Taliban began in Kabul, even as the insurgents wage an unprecedented winter campaign of violence across Afghanistan. Delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States (US) convened in the Afghan capital for a one-day meeting seeking a negotiated end to the bloody 14-year insurgency.

Tolo News reported, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani opened the meeting which is taking place at the Presidential Palace in the centre of the capital. Afghan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Shekib Mostaghni told AFP, “This meeting is important as it will focus on the roadmap to bringing peace in Afghanistan”.  Mostaghni said the meeting would be attended by the same officials that met in Islamabad last week: Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai, US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson, his Chinese counterpart Deng Xijun and the Pentagon’s senior envoy to Pakistan, Lt. Gen. Anthony Rock.

The Taliban have not been invited to this meeting. Security in parts of the capital was tight with a heavy armed police presence. The first round of the “roadmap” talks was held in Islamabad last week as the four nations try to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban. During the meeting, Sartaj Aziz proposed four points to help guide the reconciliation process:
(1) Creating conditions to incentivise the Taliban to move away from using violence to pursue political goals and come to the negotiating table
(2) Sequencing actions and measures appropriately to pave the way for direct talks with the Taliban
(3) Using confidence-building measures to encourage Taliban groups to join the negotiating table
(4) A realistic and flexible roadmap which broadly defines steps and phases ─ but avoids unrealistic targets and deadlines ─ is important for charting the course of action.

At last week’s talks in Islamabad, Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to the Afghan Chief Executive, said Pakistan would unveil a list of Taliban members who are ready for talks, but no names have so far been released and Sartaj Aziz has refused to say whether Pakistan is in possession of such a list. Analysts caution that any substantive talks or reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban are still a long way off. The Taliban have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan this winter, when fighting usually abates, underscoring a worsening security situation.

Last week, the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad was the target of an hours-long gun and bomb siege. The attack was claimed by the militant Islamic State group which has battled the Taliban for leadership of the insurgency in Nangarhar province. Late Sunday a rocket launched by the militants landed very close to the Italian embassy compound. The foreign ministry in Rome reported no casualties and said it was unsure if their compound was the target. Pakistan hosted a milestone first round of talks directly with the Taliban in July 2015. But the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar, sparking infighting within the group.

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