KABUL, Afghanistan

The long-awaited intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban will begin next week, Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator announced on Thursday.

“People are hopeful for peace. People are ready for tough decisions for the peace, but [they] also have concerns,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said at an event in the capital Kabul.

The development came after Abdullah’s phone call with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday.

Islamabad also hosted a Taliban delegation, led by the group’s deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, earlier this week.

The visit came at a time when the prospect of intra-Afghan talks was getting bleaker as violence surged and negotiations between the insurgents and the Afghan government stalled due to differences over the exchange of prisoners.

In his conversation with Khan, Abdullah appreciated Pakistan’s support for the Afghan peace process and reiterated that all sides must grasp this unique opportunity to reduce violence, start intra-Afghan talks, and pursue a path to a dignified and durable peace.

Separately, the Taliban’s lead negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai announced that the group has finalized a 21-member team for the proposed talks in Qatar’s capital Doha.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the talks in Islamabad were about peace and security in Afghanistan and the region, as well as the intra-Afghan negotiations.

He said both sides stressed the importance of building trust and establishing good relations between Kabul and Islamabad.

The announcement of a timeline for the intra-Afghan talks may bode well for peace in the country, where the government and the insurgents ramped up attacks on each other over recent weeks.

According to figures compiled by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, at least 1,213 civilians were killed and another 1,744 injured in 880 security incidents, including landmine blasts, aerial raids, and ground offensives, in the first six months of 2020.

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