Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai said the first meeting in Islamabad on Monday had mainly been intended to set a framework for the process before a meeting in Kabul on Jan. 18 to draw up a roadmap for talks with the Taliban.
The key question remains whether the Taliban, badly divided as a result of the leadership dispute which broke out last year but increasingly successful on the battlefield, will participate in the process, which is backed by Pakistan, the United States and China.
“After 30 years of war, I think they are interested and they are inclined towards joining this process,” Karzai told a news conference in Kabul.
A previous round broke down in July after it became known that the Taliban’s founder and leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had actually been dead for two years and his deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been in control.
The news badly damaged trust between Kabul and Islamabad, which many in Afghanistan believed had participated in the cover-up, and set off a bloody leadership struggle within the Islamist movement.
Subsequently appointed leader, Mansour’s authority has been rejected by a substantial faction lead by Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, a former governor of the southern Nimroz province when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 2001.
“I think there are some problems among the Taliban themselves. They do not talk with one voice but we have to be open to talk to all of them,” Karzai said.
The last round of talks began while Mansour was in effective command of the Taliban. Militants close to him have said they may consider joining but so far Rasoul’s faction has ruled out participating in any process involving foreign powers.
Next week’s meeting would aim to set up roadmap with a three-stage process covering a pre-negotiations phase, to be followed by direct talks with the Taliban themselves and a final period where an agreement would be implemented.
But Karzai said time was pressing and concrete progress had to be achieved over the coming weeks, in time for the Persian New Year in March.
“In the next two months, the Afghan people have to see some change,” he said. “The Afghan people and politicians do not have the patience they had last year.”
Monday’s talks in Islamabad included officials from China and the United States, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The involvement of Beijing and Washington may help reassure public opinion in Afghanistan, where many people are deeply suspicious of Pakistan, Karzai said.