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KABUL, Afghanistan — New insurgent attacks and concerns over the lack of female representation could complicate four-country talks on Monday aimed at ending Afghanistan’s 14-year war.

The meeting of representatives from Afghanistan, the United States, Pakistan, and China is aimed at drawing a roadmap for peace negotiations to end the war, which started in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Insurgent groups have not been invited to the preliminary talks.

Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and the residence of an Afghan diplomat in Pakistan. No diplomats were killed in either incident, though a consular official was slightly injured in Jalalabad.

The attacks come as part of a wave of violence, including several car bombings in Kabul, that followed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s New Year’s Eve announcement of the talks.

The most recent violence appears to be a new tactic by insurgents with two goals: to strain relations between Kabul and Islamabad and to demonstrate that they are not beholden to Pakistan, has long been considered the Taliban’s most important backer, experts said.

“It is kind of putting pressure on Afghanistan and Pakistan by the insurgents to accept their high demands during the peace talks,” said Shahla Farid, a political analyst and professor of law and political science at Kabul University.

“This is a new step that the Taliban are talking. In the past, they would carry out massive attacks and kill lots of civilians whenever there were starting, but now they target diplomatic facilities to show themselves to be stronger and more independent.”

Such attacks on diplomatic compounds could threaten recent improvements in the often fraught relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have traded accusations for years of supporting insurgents within the other’s borders.

“Since Pakistan is a major part of the peace talks, such attacks can make them angry and erode their support for peace,” said Mohammad Hassan Hakiyar, a political analyst and former Taliban deputy minister.

After the Islamabad meeting, Human Rights Watch voiced concern about the absence of women in the peace negotiations, saying Kabul had failed to fulfill its own national action plan to include.

“Women’s rights activists in Afghanistan have been fighting for years for a place at the table where the future of their country is being decided,” Heather Barr, the group’s senior researcher on women’s rights said in the statement. “The Afghan government’s failure to meet the promised deadline for developing this plan suggests a lack of seriousness about giving women the role to which they’re entitled.”

In an interview with Afghan news agency Pajhwok published Friday, Zalmay Khalizad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, criticized the initial Islamabad meeting for failing to produce a commitment from Islamabad to bring Pakistan-based militants to the table and conduct military operations against those who refuse.

“(The Islamabad) meeting was not encouraging to me,” he was quoted as saying. “What is needed is really to move against the groups that are not reconcilable and are based in Pakistan so that their incentive to engage in the peace process increases or they are no longer able to (conduct) military operations. That is the vital part moving toward the peace process.”

Security in the capital will be tight on Monday. Afghan authorities are not disclosing the venue ahead of time because of the threat of attacks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Shakaib Mustaghni said. He said that insurgent groups have not been invited because part of the agenda is to agree on whom to included in formal talks.

Only Hezb-i-Islami, an insurgent group unaffiliated with the Taliban or Islamic State, has publicly stated support for the process.

The United States sent Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson to the initial meeting.

A senior Obama administration official, speaking on background to reporters in Washington, said he was encouraged by cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad at the initial meeting but cautioned that the Taliban would still take convincing to come to the table.

“It’s clear that the Taliban have not yet decided to join a process, a reconciliation process, but we are proceeding on the basis that we have to test the proposition,” he said.

Ghani’s first stab at peace talks fell apart last summer when it emerged that longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for two years.

News of Omar’s death sparked a power struggle within the Taliban that continues today. The leadership Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is opposed by a faction led by Mullah Muhammad Rasool.

Experts say that Pakistan’s role in any peace agreement will be critical.

Islamabad is under pressure from other rebel groups besides the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-i-Taliban, carry our regular attacks on Pakistani government and military targets. The Islamic State group has also emerged as a threat.

Acknowledging the difficulty in convincing all of the rebel groups to participate, Ghani has said the process can start with the willing factions even as the government continues to fight others. The day before the attack on the Pakistani consulate, The Associated Press quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai as saying that most Taliban want peace but that “we will use all the means we have against those who do not.”

“Because there are different groups fighting in Afghanistan it makes it hard to reach out to everyone and bring them to peace talks,” said Hakiyar, the former Taliban official. “You can’t end the current war by just talking to the Taliban leadership.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

druzin.heath@stripes.com Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes


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