ISLAMABAD - Pakistan will host first direct meeting between the Afghan government and insurgent groups including Taliban next month, said a joint statement of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) after meeting in Kabul on Tuesday.

“Taliban and other groups are invited to participate through their authorised representatives in the first round of direct peace talks with the Afghan government by first week of March,” QCG statement said after its fourth meeting.

The group agreed to meet in Islamabad immediately after the first direct talks between the Afghan government, Taliban and other groups.

The meeting also welcomed the decision by Afghanistan and Pakistan to constitute a bilateral joint working group to work with the Ulema of Afghanistan and Pakistan for their support to the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the delegations were led by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing and the US Charge d’Affaires, David Lindwall.

The group reviewed progress in the implementation of the roadmap for the reconciliation process in line with the desire and support of the QCG member countries for lasting peace in Afghanistan.

“The QCG members welcomed the statement by Ashraf Ghani on February 15 which underlined the Afghan government’s commitment for peace and reconciliation with Taliban groups and Hezb-e-Islami,” the statement read.

Taliban representatives have been notably absent from the process so far.

Earlier Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani told participants that he wanted the Kabul meeting to “draft the details of direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban before the end of February.

“To end the conflict and bloodshed in the country, the government of Afghanistan once again calls on Taliban groups to take part in peace talks,” Rabbani added.

Also on Tuesday, President Ashraf Ghani announced he is replacing Rabbani as head of the High Peace Council, the government body responsible for negotiating with the insurgents, without specifying the reasons.

Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gailani, an influential leader among the Pashtun who make up a large number of the Taliban, will take his place.

Pakistan as a member of the Quadrilateral Group is making sincere efforts on its part to help facilitate Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.

It is in this context that Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif visited Qatar to take the Qatari leadership on board.

According to the diplomatic sources, General Raheel also discussed with Qatari leadership the role and utility of Taliban political office in Qatar.

The Quadrilateral Group comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States was constituted in December last year to help resume stalled peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

QCG has so far held four meetings and evolved a broad-based roadmap to make the peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan meaningful and result-oriented.

Direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban broke down in July last year after the news that the Taliban chief Mullah Omer had died two years ago, leaving the entire reconciliation process in quandary.

Mullah Muhammad Mansur Akhtar, the deputy of Mullah Omer was chosen by majority of the commanders as new Taliban chief.

Only handful fighters of Mullah Daudullah not only dissented but opposed the leadership of Mullah Mansur Akhtar. There have been efforts to strike a deal between the two factions but these have not born fruits so far.

On the other hand, with the assumption of his new role, Mullah Mansur and his fighters have stepped up offensive in Afghanistan resulting in phenomenal surge in violence. Taliban also eventually captured northern Kunduz province sending a clear message to the UNITY GOVERNMENT in Afghanistan that Taliban were still powerful and they were controlling vast territory.

Though Taliban fighters vacated the Kunduz province, yet they kept on targeting the government functionaries and installations in various parts of the country.

The Afghan government which previously opposed to open doors to Taliban for a negotiated settlement finally realized the necessity of engaging them to bring to end the growing violence in the country which at one point of time left the Afghan government helpless.

The growing threat of Islamic State commonly known as Daesh in this region also factored in forcing the Afghan government as well as Taliban insurgents to not let the third party take any advantage and started indirect contact to coordinate action against the Daesh fighters largely operating out from eastern Nangarhar province.

There have been sporadic skirmishes between Daseh and Taliban fighters. Lately, the Afghan security forces with the help of US air cover targeted Daesh fighters and inflicted heavy losses on Daesh both in terms of men and material.