KABUL — Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed on Sunday to meet US and Chinese officials next month in a bid to prepare the ground for fresh peace talks with the Taliban, officials said, despite growing militant violence.
The announcement came as Pakistan's powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif visited Kabul for a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Pakistan hosted a milestone first round of talks in July but the negotiations stalled when the Taliban belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.
Ghani has recently pushed to strengthen ties with Pakistan – the Taliban's historic backers – in a desperate bid to restart the talks as the insurgency expands.
"Both sides agreed that the first round of dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan, US and China will be held in January to layout a comprehensive roadmap for peace," the Afghan presidential palace said in a statement.
Asim Bajwa, a Pakistani military spokesman, said on Twitter that the talks will be held in the first week of January but did not disclose the venue.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban, who have recently stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets.
Afghan forces are currently battling to push out Taliban insurgents who seized large swathes of the key opium-rich district of Sangin in southern Helmand province.
Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the militants to seize more territory in a bid to wrangle greater concessions during talks.
The army chief's visit to Kabul follows talks between Ghani and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over recent weeks that sought to pave the way for a Islamabad-brokered peace process.
Afghanistan sees Pakistan's support as vital to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
But despite the growing bonhomie, analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off.
Afghanistan's intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil resigned this month over Ghani's diplomatic outreach to Pakistan.
His resignation highlighted the domestic backlash Ghani faces over his attempts to mend relations with the neighbouring country, long blamed for nurturing the Taliban.— AFP