UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council has welcomed the recently held direct talks between Afghan government and Taliban representatives as a step towards ‘peace and reconciliation’ in the region.

Two leading American newspapers also called development ‘significant’ and ‘positive’, and gave credit to Pakistan for the breakthrough talks.

In a statement to the press issued late Friday afternoon, the 15-member Security Council said it encouraged the parties in the talks to continue building on their efforts through “an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned dialogue” while also voicing appreciation for the constructive roles played by the governments of Pakistan, China and the United States.

The talks – which were held on 7th July in Murree – are just the first step in a series of confidence-building negotiations between the Afghan government and the group.

In addition to welcoming the engagement between the two sides, the Security Council on Friday also reiterated the ‘vital role’ that women have to play in the peace process and recalled the need for “the full, equal and effective participation of women at all its stages.”

Finally, the members of the Council reaffirmed their commitment to supporting Afghanistan on its path towards peace, reconciliation, democracy and development.

The Council’s statement follows that of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who welcomed the move and UN Special Representative in Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom who, on 8th July, suggested that the talks could be recognized as the outcome of the recent concerted efforts at rebuilding relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, commenting on the development in its lead editorial, called it a ‘significant step’, but cautioned about the difficult task ahead.

“While the two days of meetings produced no substantive breakthrough, officials said the two sides discussed the possibility of a temporary cease-fire during the three-day festival of Eidul Fitr, at the end of Ramazan later this month,” the newspaper said, pointing out that the Taliban participated in the talks under Pakistan’s pressure.

“That, at least, would be an indicator that both sides are serious and ready to move to a more substantive level,” it added, while emphasising that the talks were “positive” and that the atmosphere was good.

“Even if the atmosphere was upbeat, there is a long, hard road ahead,” the Times said.

“The most important thing about the two-day meeting is that the delegations agreed to convene again in several weeks to discuss the possibility of formal peace talks . Whether that meeting takes place will be the next test and will require continued assistance and prodding from Pakistan, China and, especially, the United States.

“Though the Afghan army and the Taliban continue to fight on the battlefield, it is becoming clear even to the warring sides that political reconciliation is the only possible solution to the conflict,” the Times added.

Noting that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was a ‘big reason’ the process has gotten this far, the editorial said the delegation he sent to the talks was flawed. “While it included representatives of the major political players in his country’s factionalised power-sharing government, it lacked women and members of community groups.

“To win broad support, any peace agreement will require the participation of all these groups. Mr. Ghani will need to include them and do a better job of getting his fractured government, which still has not appointed a defence minister, to be more decisive.”

To get peace talks going, it said, President Ghani was wise to enlist the help of Pakistan.

The Times said, “Pakistan’s powerful army and intelligence services have for years relied on the Taliban to exert leverage on Afghanistan and prevent India from becoming a dominant force there. Afghan and American officials say the Taliban agreed to attend the meeting only under pressure from Islamabad.”

The editorial said, “One problem in getting talks started has been divisions among Taliban factions and obtaining assurances that Taliban negotiators are authorized to speak for their leaders. After this week’s talks, Pakistani and Afghan officials insisted that the Taliban who attended were ‘duly mandated,’ but Taliban members who are part of the group’s official political office in Qatar disagreed. What that means for the future is unclear.”

The Washington Post said that despite opposition, including from his predecessor Hamid Karzai, President Ghani took a big risk soon after taking office last year, betting that with Pakistan’s help he could draw the Taliban into peace talks .

“It consequently was a boon to Mr. Ghani that a group of Taliban leaders met an official Afghan delegation north of Islamabad this week. The talks were brokered by Pakistani security officials, who said senior military officials heavily pressured the Taliban to participate. Though there were no dramatic results, the two sides discussed confidence-building measures and agreed to meet again. That should, at the least, allow Mr. Ghani, whose coalition government has struggled to gain its footing, to fend off the attacks of Mr. Karzai and other domestic opponents.

“It also should encourage Afghanistan’s foreign supporters, who have been wondering if the new administration in Kabul can withstand the continuing military pressure from the Taliban at a time when the United States and its NATO allies are drawing down their troops and President Obama is planning to reduce the US military mission to a small, embassy-based operation by the end of his term. The peace talks are the product of several promising changes in Afghanistan’s underlying security situation — shifts that US commanders and diplomats have hoped for years.

“One is Pakistan’s offensive against Taliban havens on its territory, a year-long campaign that has killed thousands of insurgents and driven others across the Afghan border. Though security forces don’t appear to have targeted key Afghan Taliban leaders and factions, as opposed to their Pakistani counterparts, the effort has distanced Pakistan’s security establishment from the militants and opened the way for Mr. Ghani’s policy.

“The Afghan president, in turn, has made a major effort to improve relations between Kabul and Islamabad, discarding the poisonous mix of suspicion and nationalism with which Mr. Karzai approached his powerful neighbor. In May, the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence services signed a cooperation agreement, a step that infuriated the former president but that probably helped pave the way to this week’s negotiations.

“Similarly, Afghan and Western officials believe Mr. Ghani’s reversal of Mr. Karzai’s refusal to sign a security agreement with the United States, and Mr. Obama’s subsequent decision to set aside a planned reduction in US forces this year, must have helped force the Taliban to the table. It follows that the best way for the United States to support a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government — a long-standing goal of the Obama administration — would be for Mr. Obama to drop his politically motivated timetable for withdrawing remaining US forces.

“At his confirmation hearing Thursday, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, said he would make recommendations on the troop drawdown “based on conditions on the ground,” not the calendar. Mr. Obama could do Mr. Ghani and his country a great service by accepting that advice.”