Head of Afghan peace process visits Pakistan as talks continue
The Afghan official overseeing Kabul's efforts to forge a deal with the Taliban arrived Monday for a three-day visit to Pakistan, the influential neighbour considered vital to the peace process.
Abdullah Abdullah, previously Afghanistan's chief executive, was meeting senior officials in Islamabad for the first time as chair of his country's High Council for National Reconciliation.
Afghanistan is deeply suspicious of Pakistan, a fellow Islamic republic, which it accuses of undermining the government and supporting the Taliban as part of a broader push to resist Indian influence in Kabul.
Islamabad denies such support, but has said its influence over the Taliban encouraged the insurgents to hold talks with Washington that led to a February deal paving the way for a US military withdrawal and current peace talks.
"Abdullah's visit will greatly help to strengthen relations with Afghanistan and forge a common understanding on the Afghan peace process," Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement after Abdullah met Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
"Qureshi underlined the high importance Pakistan attached to its brotherly relations with Afghanistan," the statement read, adding that the return of millions of Afghan refugees currently residing in Pakistan must be included in peace talks.
Negotiations in Doha started September 12 but have slowed as the two sides grapple with several foundational issues, including which interpretation of Islam should be used to frame Afghanistan's future.
"Definitely things take time," Khairullah Khairkhaw, a senior member of the Taliban negotiating team, told reporters in Doha.
"There are many issues, 20 or more, that need clarity."
Nader Naderi, a member of Kabul's negotiating team, said both sides would meet later Monday to discuss several pressing topics including a ceasefire.
"The key issue for us is a ceasefire and we are still talking about it (with the Taliban)," Naderi said.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, when it was ousted by a US-led invasion.
It has fought the government in Kabul for nearly two decades in a conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead.
Violence has continued unabated across Afghanistan even during the talks.