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      Taliban and Afghan Government Agree To Meet Again After First Peace Talks

      Taliban and Afghan Government Agree To Meet Again After First Peace Talks Taliban and Afghan Government Agree To Meet Again After First Peace Talks Taliban and Afghan Government Agree To Meet Again After First Peace Talks
      Photo by Rahmat Gul/AP

      Enduring Freedom

      Taliban and Afghan Government Agree To Meet Again After First Peace Talks

      By John Beck

      VICE News is covering the ongoing fight for the future of Afghanistan. Click here for more from the Enduring Freedom blog.

      The Afghan government and the Taliban have agreed to meet again after taking part in their first ever officially acknowledged peace talks.

      Further discussions would be held after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Afghan officials said on Wednesday.

      Pakistan hosted the meeting in Murree on the outskirts of Islamabad on Tuesday, in what could be a step towards ending more than 13 years of conflict. The two sides have been at war since 2001 when the hardline Taliban militants were removed from power by a US-led invasion force. 

      The Afghan foreign ministry described the talks as "the first step towards reaching peace," in a statement released on Wednesday, adding that it sought a durable and lasting halt to violence. "We are hopeful that the negotiations result in ensuring dignified peace and permanent stability in the country and region," it said.

      The statement went on to thank Pakistan for facilitating the meetings, as well as the US and China, which both had observers in attendance.

      The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the discussions and urged both sides to move toward a stable solution. "In the long term, peace is not a luxury, it is a necessity," said UNAMA head Nicholas Haysom. "I welcome the direct face-to-face engagement by the parties as the only way to achieving progress towards a negotiated agreement and ultimately the peace that Afghanistan deserves." Haysom added that achieving this could be long and challenging process, however.

      It remains unclear whether the talks actually could put an end to the fighting.  The Taliban's leadership appears to be divided on desirability of a peace process and spokesmen have recently reiterated their opposition to Afghanistan's government. The group also claimed responsibility for two separate suicide attacks that left one dead and at least three injured on Tuesday.

      Rival jihadist group Islamic State (IS) is also increasing its influence and presence in the country. A number of Taliban commanders have defected and sworn allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi since IS claimed in January that Afghanistan, along with Pakistan, was part of its "Khorosan" province.

      The two Islamist groups have since clashed and IS has captured significant territory from the Taliban in eastern Nangarhar province in recent weeks. IS even beheaded captured Taliban fighters in June. 

      Worries over IS's expanding influence and recruitment could be driving the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government, as they seek to consolidate their position under the threat of being ousted from their position as the primary jihadi group in the country. Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour sent an open letter to Baghdadi last month in which he said his group "doesn't want to see interference in its affairs," insisting that there was room for only "one flag, one leadership, and one command" in the fight to establish Islamic rule in Afghanistan.

      Violence has been on the rise in Afghanistan since most American and allied foreign forces pulled out at the beginning of this year. Local troops are now responsible for Afghan security, but they have been taking heavy casualties while struggling to combat the Taliban and other insurgents. The civilian death toll has also been high, with a record 10,000 non-combatants killed or wounded in 2014, according to the United Nations.

      Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck

      Topics: afghanistan, asia & pacific, war & conflict, taliban, jihadis, islamic state, peace talks, kabul, pakistan, mullah akhtar mansour, enduring freedom

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