Afghan President Hamid Karzai and representatives of a major militant group wrapped up a first round of peace talks on Tuesday, reaching no final deal but pledging to continue a dialogue that if successful would split the ranks of the Taliban-led insurgency.
The talks with Hizb-i-Islami were the first public face-to-face negotiations in the capital between Karzai and representatives of an insurgent group. Hizb-i-Islami, led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is far smaller than the Taliban, but is active in at least four provinces of eastern Afghanistan and parts of the north.
Its defection from the insurgency would be a coup for Karzai and could encourage some members of the Taliban to explore their own peace deals.
The talks come ahead of a three-day peace conference the Afghan government is hosting the first week of May in Kabul. Hizb-i-Islami negotiators said they had not yet decided whether the group would be represented at the gathering.
A member of the delegation, Qaribur Rahman Saeed, characterized the two-hour working lunch with Karzai as "positive for both sides." It was the second meeting the delegation had with Karzai at the presidential palace since it arrived in early March.
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