Wary representatives of Afghan society met Taliban officials in Qatar on Monday (July 8) for a second day of talks, with bloody insurgent attacks back home casting a pall over efforts to end Afghanistan's years of war.
The Taliban on Sunday (July 7) detonated a car bomb outside a government security compound in central Afghanistan killing 14 people and wounding 180, including scores of children.
The attack came at the onset of a two-day meeting between Afghan citizens and the militants, meant to open the way to a peace process that should build on a hoped-for deal between the United States and the Taliban to end the longest ever US war.
"It is very hard to sit across from those men who are waging a war against innocent Afghans, but it is also a test of our commitment to peace," said a senior Afghan official involved in the talks.
The Taliban and US officials are trying to strike a deal on a Taliban demand for the withdrawal of US and other foreign forces and a US demand that the Taliban not let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism.
"We think the gap between the US and Taliban is narrow now. We hope both sides will reach an agreement this month about the outstanding issues," said Qatar's lead mediator Mutlaq Bin Majid Al-Qahtani.
US-Taliban talks, the seventh since last year, are set to continue on Tuesday in Doha, as US officials look to clinch a deal by September ahead of an expected Afghan presidential election.
But the Taliban have refused to negotiate with the US-backed Afghan government, denouncing it as a US puppet.
So while the 60-member delegation of Afghan representatives in Qatar includes officials, they are not there in their government capacity.
"I am here as an Afghan, but I am not sure if the Taliban view themselves as Afghans before anything else," said the senior official, who spoke by telephone from Qatar but declined to be identified.