Afghanistan-Taliban peace talks in Pakistan yield optimism, and caution

The Pakistan-hosted peace talks ended with both sides committed to resuming the dialogue after Ramadan. But internal Taliban divisions are raising questions.

B.K. Bangash/AP/File
People, who were displaced from Pakistan's tribal areas due to fighting between the Taliban and the army, walk on a dusty road at dusk in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 19, 2014. The Pakistani government hosted peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban this week north of Islamabad, signaling the possible start of a formal peace process.

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The first official peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban ended on a positive note this week, signaling the possible start of a formal peace process.

Participants agreed to continue talks after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in about two weeks. The Taliban’s 13-year insurgency against US-led international troops and Afghan security forces has claimed nearly 100,000 lives and cost roughly $680 billion, reports Bloomberg News. 

“The participants exchanged views on ways and means to bring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani government, which hosted the talks north of Islamabad, said in a statement today.

“The participants agreed to continue talks to create an environment conducive for [the] peace and reconciliation process,” the statement read.

The participation of the Pakistani government in hosting this week’s meeting sends an important message, since many senior Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to be based there, reports The Wall Street Journal. Pakistan backed the Taliban's rise in the 1990s and was among a handful of countries that recognized it as the legitimate government in Afghanistan prior to the 2001 US-led invasion.  

According to Agence France-Presse, there have been a number of informal meetings between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives in recent months. But this is the first time the government has confirmed that senior officials are talking directly with the militant group.

The United States and China sent representatives to observe the talks, with the White House putting out a statement saying the meeting was "an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace."

But there are still signs of divisions within the Taliban, and some question whether the representatives at the talks had blanket authorization, reports Reuters. Some within the Taliban support the idea of negotiations, while others have “defected” in recent months to join the terrorist group Islamic State.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the emergence of Islamic State loyalists in Afghanistan “has created conditions more conducive to peace talks.”

But whether or not the Taliban participants were authorized to participate in the talks, and by whom, is an important question, reports The Christian Science Monitor:

International and Afghan officials [have] struggled to find suitable people to bring to the table [for peace talks]. In one case in late 2010, a Taliban impostor duped NATO and Afghan officials, pretending to be a senior official ready to begin peace talks. The incident caused embarrassment and was one of many setbacks to the reconciliation effort.

Participants in Tuesday’s meeting “were duly mandated by their respective leadership,” according to the official Pakistani statement Wednesday.

Many hope the historic talks, which lasted through the night, will help tamp down violence in Afghanistan. There were two suicide attacks in Kabul on Tuesday targeting official security apparatuses, injuring three people and killing one.

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