Ceasefire on agenda for next Taliban talks: Afghan negotiator

KABUL: An Afghan government delegation due to meet Taliban representatives for a second round of official peace talks next week will press for a ceasefire in the fighting, a negotiator said on Saturday.

Any temporary reduction in attacks would represent a breakthrough and boost the legitimacy of the budding peace process aimed at ending the 13-year-old war that kills hundreds of Afghans each month.

However, it is unclear whether the Taliban, who have been on the offensive in several parts of the country this year and inflicting record casualties, would agree.

It's also uncertain any ceasefire would be enforceable, since the insurgents' leaders are divided on negotiating.

Mohammad Nateqi, an Afghan government negotiator who attended the first official talks in Pakistan earlier this month, said the subject of a ceasefire was broached then but it was decided to resume discussions at the next round.

"We will ask for a complete ceasefire and hope that the other side agrees," Nateqi said. "A ceasefire will give our people hope that these talks will bear good results."

He said the government side would press the issue in the next talks, tentatively set for July 30 in China. Beijing is increasingly worried about insurgency in the region spilling over into its territory and has been playing a role to broker a peace deal between Kabul and the Taliban.

Nateqi said Taliban negotiators this time will also include representatives from its top leadership, known as the Quetta Shura, and its political office based in Qatari city of Doha.

Taliban statements and spokesmen have not directly commented on the recent talks, though a statement issued in the name of elusive supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar recently said it was not against Islamic law to talk to enemies in times of war.

Violence has risen sharply this year in most parts of Afghanistan as the Taliban insurgents show no sign of letting up in their bloody summer offensive campaign, causing a record number of casualties to Afghan security forces.

The Taliban have been fighting the Afghan government to restore their hard-line Islamist regime that was ousted by US and Afghan forces in late 2001.