Afghan volunteers carry a body at the scene of a car bomb exploded in front of the old Ministry of Interior building in Kabul on January 27, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi, Kabul: US and Taliban officials have discussed proposals for a six-month ceasefire in Afghanistan and the future withdrawal of foreign troops during talks aimed at setting up peace negotiations.

The meeting in Abu Dhabi was at least the third time that US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalil Zad met Taliban representatives and other stakeholders as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war have intensified this year.

The UAE hosted the US-Taliban reconciliation talks, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The two-day Afghan reconciliation conference led to tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned, and another round of talks will be held in Abu Dhabi to complete the process, WAM reported.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE extended their thanks to Afghan President Ashraf Gani, as well as the US, Pakistani and Taliban delegations for their effective participation and support in ensuring the success of the conference.

The Afghan government sent a delegation to the UAE but it did not take part in the talks. The government team travelled to Abu Dhabi “to begin proximity dialogue with the Taliban delegation and to prepare for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides,” spokesman Haroon Chakansuri said in a statement.

The delegation met Khalil Zad as well as officials from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan. However, despite US insistence that any peace settlement must be agreed between Afghans, the Taliban have refused to talk directly with officials from the Kabul government.

Khalil Zad tweeted Wednesday that the talks were “productive,” without mentioning the Taliban by name.

We should be more realistic and should not expect complete resolution in one or two talks. We also understand that we have a long way to go before we can achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan. However, we can expect more tangible results in the upcoming rounds of talks.

- Abdul Farid Zikria, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the UAE

Since being appointed in September, Khalil Zad has met with all sides to try to restart peace talks aimed at ending America’s longest war. The Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion.

According to a statement released by the Taliban, the talks focused on the withdrawal of Nato troops from Afghanistan, the release of prisoners and halting attacks on civilians by pro-government forces.

There was no immediate comment from the US Embassy in Kabul.

Even as the peace process gathers momentum, fighting has continued across Afghanistan with heavy casualties on both sides. The latest round of diplomacy comes about a year after the US sent thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan and stepped up air strikes to record levels.

The presence in the delegation of senior officials close to the Taliban leader underscored the importance of the talks, which are shaping up as the most serious attempt to open negotiations since at least 2015.

“It’s a well-coordinated meeting where members from the political commissions and Quetta shura both participated for the first time,” said one peace activist in close contact with the Taliban side at the meeting.