An Afghan delegation has travelled to Islamabad for peace talks with the Taliban, officials said Tuesday, the latest move towards dialogue despite the militants' bloody and escalating summer offensive.
There have been several informal meetings between the Taliban and Afghan officials at venues outside Afghanistan in recent months as Kabul seeks a negotiated end to the insurgents' 13-year fight, but little in the way of concrete progress.
The Taliban leadership have not officially confirmed they will take part, but a militant source told AFP they would attend, saying the Islamabad round would be an extension of meetings held in China in May.
"A delegation from the High Peace Council of Afghanistan has traveled to Pakistan for negotiations with the Taliban", read a statement posted on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's official Twitter account.
The High Peace Council (HPC) is the body tasked with opening negotiations with the militants.
Sayed Zafar Hashemi, Ghani's deputy spokesman said the delegation was being led by deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai but gave no details of the expected length of talks or subjects to be discussed.
There was no comment on the planned talks from Pakistani officials, but the choice of venue has some significance.
Pakistan, Afghanistan's eastern neighbour, has historically supported the Taliban and many Afghans accuse it of continuing to do so in the hope of maintaining influence in the country.
Since coming to power last year Ghani has courted the Pakistanis, expending substantial domestic political capital in the process, to try to get Islamabad to persuade the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Ties between the two countries, often fraught under Ghani's predecessor Hamid Karzai, have undoubtedly improved but so far the peace process remains at an embryonic stage.
Official efforts to open negotiations with the Taliban have borne little fruit, but informal talks have taken place several times in the recent past, veiled in secrecy.
The Taliban have said they took part in informal talks in Norway with an Afghan delegation, reportedly made up of women, as well as meetings in Qatar in May.
At the Qatar meetings, activists said, Taliban delegates pledged support for women's education and their right to work in "male-dominated professions" -- a sharp contrast from their traditional misogynistic reputation.
The Taliban have laid down hardline preconditions for taking part in full-blown negotiations, stressing the need for the complete departure of foreign troops from Afghan soil.
Even if substantive progress were made in Islamabad, talks alone would not necessarily mean an end to fighting on the ground in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's annual summer offensive is in full swing, with twin suicide attacks in Kabul on Tuesday, one targeting a NATO convoy and one an Afghan intelligence office, highlighting the precarious security situation.
It is unclear the extent to which the Taliban central leadership is able to control commanders on the ground -- younger and in some cases more hardline than the old guard.
NATO ended its combat mission at the end of December, leaving Afghan forces to battle the resurgent Taliban on their own.
Stretched on multiple fronts and facing record casualties, Afghan forces are struggling to rein in the militants, and there are persistent fears that the Islamic State group is growing in influence in the country's restive southeast.