Afghanistan’s government has started negotiations with the Taliban, working towards ending decades of war.
Delegates from both sides were brought together for the opening ceremony in Qatar, where the meetings will take place, joined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The discussions are important in the search for lasting peace that will also provide an exit for US and NATO troops after nearly 19 years.
The sides are expected to tackle constitutional changes, power-sharing, the terms of a permanent ceasefire, the rights of women and minorities and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and militias.
Mr Pompeo has said he expected the discussions to be contentious.
Washington’s peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Friday that launching the talks is an important achievement, but that “there are difficulties, significant challenges on the way to reaching agreement”.
“Afghans have at long last chosen to sit together and chart a new course for your country.
“This is a moment that we must dare to hope.
“As we look toward the light, we recall the darkness of four decades of war and the lost lives and opportunities, but it is remarkable and a testament to the human spirit that the pain and patterns of destruction are no match for the enduring hopes for peace held by all Afghan people and their many friends.”
Mr Pompeo wrote on Twitter that the "historic peace negotiations", stalled after a deal signed in February, were the closest the Middle Eastern country had been to peace in "40 years of war".
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 11 September terrorist attacks on American soil.
On 29 February this year, the intra-Afghan negotiations were laid out in a peace deal Washington signed with the Taliban – talks expected to commence weeks after.
Under the deal, a US and coalition troop reduction would only occur if the Taliban honoured commitments to fight terrorist groups and ensure that Afghanistan cannot again be used to attack America or its allies.
General Kenneth Franklin McKenzie, Commander of US Central Command, said earlier this week the Taliban had “still not shown conclusively that they're going to break with al-Qaeda”.
A reduction in violence from al-Qaeda toward coalition forces had been matched by "pretty high tempo" attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces they have been training, he said.
The agreement also detailed a prisoner swap between the Taliban and the Iraqi government, though the latter party was not present for the signing of the deal – leading to stalled progress.
Despite this, it was announced a plan to reduce US troops to 4,500 is “in execution”, and that a smaller force would still be able to carry out the mission in Afghanistan.
Cover image: Sunset behind Gardez mountains in Afghanistan (Picture: NATO).