BEIJING: Senior Afghan, Chinese, Pakistani and American diplomats made substantial progress during a day-long discussion in Islamabad at the weekend to set a date for direct talks with the Taliban groups by the end of February, to push for political reconciliation and end the conflict in Afghanistan, Chinese media reported on Monday.

Since the launch of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on the "Afghan Peace and Reconciliation" process in December, Saturday's meeting could be considered the most successful yet, as all sides agreed on a roadmap that will be "stipulating the stages and steps in the process," a joint statement issued at the meeting said.

An official who took part in the three multilateral meetings told Xinhua that the roadmap emphasizes an equal role for all the members as everyone will now work on the basis of the approach of a "shared responsibility."

This is a logical approach because the previous policy to shift the onus of responsibility mainly to Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, was widely seen as spurious, analysts close to the matter said, adding that such moves usually faced a deadlock because of the tense relationship and mistrust between the two countries, Xinhua news agency said in a news analysis.

As the third round of the four-nation forum has set the end of February as the deadline to decide a date for the possible peace talks with the Taliban groups, the member countries are now facing a major challenge to bring the Taliban to intra-Afghan dialogue table. All sides will use their influence and channels to contact the Taliban office in Qatar to convince them to join the peace process.

Involvement of the Qatar office is a sensible decision, experts maintained, as the Taliban leaders have always insisted this office is the only authorized channel to pursue political consultations. The office had distanced itself from previous talks between the Taliban representatives and the Afghanistan government.

The Taliban have not officially commented on the decisions made at the meeting in Islamabad, however, their unnamed officials have been quoted as saying they have not yet been contacted by anyone.

Many believe it would be a very difficult task to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiation table, as they have not yet given any indication they wish to sit face-to-face with the Afghan government.

Such a situation is a test case for the members of the quadrilateral process of how to convince the Taliban to join the negotiations, when concerns are fast growing in Afghanistan over the possible escalation of Taliban violence as the militant group gears up for its Spring Offensive.

Some confidence building measures could be a viable option to create an atmosphere conducive for the talks, analysts proffered. The Taliban political negotiators last month suggested some steps that could pave the way for the talks. They are asking for the reopening of the political office in Qatar that was closed just days after its opening in 2013.

As the Taliban leadership has empowered this office to handle its political engagements, its reopening could be an effective way to encourage more flexibility from the Taliban on approaching the peace talks.

The Taliban has also called for the lifting of international sanctions on their leaders.  This is also not a complicated demand, experts have suggested, as the UN Security Council has previously lifted curbs from more than a dozen top leaders including former ministers and diplomats in the past. The role of the United States and Kabul will be important, however, in any such move. The UN had previously approached the U.S. for the removal of sanctions and the U.S. had not opposed it.

If the Taliban are asking for such measures, Afghans would expect the Taliban to follow suit and not launch their Spring Offensive as it will undoubtedly derail the political negotiations, political observers said.