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Four-Way Afghan Peace Talks To Start In Pakistan

Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China will begin talks on January 11 aimed at reviving the Afghan peace process.

Senior officials from the four countries will meet in Islamabad to lay the groundwork for direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

But the meeting, part of a peace road map, is not expected to include the militants.

Javed Faisal, spokesman for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told AFP on January 10 that the "meeting will discuss the mechanism for peace talks."

Faisal added that Pakistan will present a list of Taliban insurgents willing to negotiate with Kabul on ending the 15-year war.

Faisal said Pakistan had also agreed to end financial support to Taliban fighters based in Pakistani cities and to bar insurgents based in Pakistan from resettling in Afghanistan.

The agreement, he added, will include "bilateral cooperation on eliminating terrorism."

Kabul has long accused Islamabad of continuing to covertly support the Taliban in their insurgency in Afghanistan.

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry will attend the talks in Islamabad.

U.S. officials said either the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Olson, or the U.S. ambassador would attend the talks.

"It'll be an opportunity to further our partnership with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China in support of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation, which is what we've said all along we want to see," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

The talks came as the Taliban is waging a deadly campaign of violence in Afghanistan this winter, unleashing deadly bombings in the capital, threatening to overrun a strategic southern province, and attacking a foreign consulate.

Analysts say the Taliban is trying to strengthen its negotiating hand amid a renewed international push to revive peace talks.

A previous peace process last year was stopped after the Taliban announced that its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for two years, throwing the militant group into disarray and factional infighting.

The Taliban remains divided over whether to participate in any future talks.

Some elements within the Taliban have signaled they may be willing to send negotiators at some point, but other factions remain opposed to any form of negotiation with Kabul.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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