ISLAMABAD - Members of Afghan government team on Tuesday launched the long-awaited dialogue process with Taliban representatives in Islamabad in their first official face-to-face discussions.

Confirming the development while speaking in Oslo, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called holding of the talks “a major breakthrough”.

He said the overtness of the meeting was a positive development. “I hope there will be a positive outcome which will certainly be very helpful for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

The prime minister said: “There may be certain spoilers, but we should make sure that nobody tries to derail this process as it is not only the obligation of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parties, but also the obligation of international community.”

In Islamabad, the Foreign Office said “As part of the commitment to facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, Pakistan is hosting a meeting between representatives of the Afghan government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA). Further details will be shared later. The representatives of USA and China are attending as observers.”

The high-powered Afghan delegation has been in Islamabad for the last three days on an unannounced invitation for holding talks with Taliban.

Well-informed officials at Afghanistan’s embassy in Islamabad said that Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hikmat Khalil Karzai and Haji Din Muhammad, member, High Peace Council (HPC) and former Jihadi commander, flew to Islamabad two days back on the overt invitation of Pakistan.

Both Karzai, nephew of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Haji Din Muhammad stayed at Serena Hotel in Islamabad. The sources said Taliban side was represented by Maulvi Jalil and Qari Din Muhammad.

A source privy to the development said the two sides drove to Murree, a hill resort, after Iftar amid tight security. However, another source said the delegation returned to Islamabad after a key member of Afghan Taliban based in Quetta made it to the federal capital for meeting the guests sent by the Afghan unity government.

The sources said talks between the Afghan government’s delegation and Taliban will continue until a tangible breakthrough is made. “President Ashraf Ghani wants to bring militants to table talks and to convince them end attacks against the government. The delegation in Islamabad has been given a heavy mandate to woo Taliban,” a source said.

According to sources, the development in Islamabad is continuation of peace talks with Taliban held in May in Urumqi city of China.

The Afghan delegation in China was led by Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai who until last week was one of the key members of High Peace Council, the country’s peace-negotiating body.

Diplomatic sources said Pakistan facilitated the talks in Islamabad in order to dispel the impression raised against its role in the wake of the brazen attack on Parliament in Kabul on June 22.

However, officials at Afghan embassy here said that President Ashraf Ghani was satisfied with the role of Islamabad in bringing the fierce Taliban to negotiation table, arguing the engagement of militants in peace talks was itself a big achievement.

According to a private TV channel, the two sides held two rounds of talks on Tuesday night at an undisclosed location.

“A delegation from the High Peace Council of Afghanistan has travelled to Pakistan for negotiations with the Taliban,” read a statement posted on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s official Twitter account.

US WELCOMES AFGHAN-TALIBAN TALKS

The United States welcomed talks between the Afghan government and Taliban, the White House said on Tuesday after Afghanistan announced it had sent a peace delegation to Pakistan for talks. “This is an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.