A four-nation group devoted to peace and reconciliation in war-torn Afghanistan adopted a roadmap on Saturday that calls for resuming stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban by the end of February.
Held in Islamabad, the third meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) -- which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S. and China -- explored means of holding direct peace talks between representatives of Kabul and the Taliban.
The initiative comes as part of the fifth Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, which was adopted in November of 2011 at the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan.
Chaired by Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the much-publicized meeting was attended by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai; U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson; and China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Deng Xijun.
Like the group’s two previous meetings -- held in Islamabad and Kabul respectively -- no Taliban representatives attended the third meeting.
Pakistan had organized landmark peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban in July of last year, but the process broke down after the militant group announced the death of its longtime leader, Mullah Omar.
The breakdown in talks was followed by a series of brazen Taliban offensives across Afghanistan, including the temporary capture of the strategically important city of Kunduz and several districts of the Helmand province.
A joint declaration issued at the conclusion of the day-long meeting, which was inaugurated by Pakistani foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz, stressed that the outcome of the reconciliation process should be a political settlement leading to the cessation of violence and a durable peace in Afghanistan.
"Building on the progress made in the last two meetings, the group explored ways of holding early direct peace talks between the authorized representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban groups," the declaration read.
"In this regard, the group also adopted a roadmap stipulating the stages and steps in the process," it added.
Calling on all Taliban groups to join the initiative, the four nations agreed to prepare for the talks, which are expected to take place by the end of this month.
"The QCG agreed to continue regular meetings to ensure a smooth way forward in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan," the final declaration read.
The group will next convene in Kabul on Feb. 23.