The Taliban religious army and its northern-based opponents agreed Monday to consider a cease-fire and prisoner exchange at talks seeking peace for Afghanistan.
The negotiations in neighboring Pakistan, which began Sunday, are the first between the warring factions since the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, in 1996.During a break Monday, the talks' co-sponsors - the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference - said the sides had agreed for the first time to discuss a cease-fire and prisoner exchange. Those are key parts of the negotiating agenda.
After five hours of talks Sunday, they agreed to try to stop "any major offensives against each other." That was progress, given that some of the heaviest fighting in recent months occurred just the day before, 20 miles north of Kabul.
The fighting sent a fresh wave of refugees to Kabul seeking safety.
The two sides also agreed to set a date for another round of negotiations after this one concludes, probably later this week.
Despite the talks, on the battlefields, both sides appeared to be gearing up for major fighting.
Outside Kabul, witnesses said hundreds of Taliban soldiers were headed to the front line carrying their weapons. The anti-Taliban alliance, led by ousted military chief Ahmed Shah Massood, was reportedly making the same arrangements.
Since throwing the communists out of Kabul in 1992, warring Islamic groups have destroyed nearly 70 percent of the city and killed more than 50,000 people.
The country's economy is in tatters and the United Nations has warned that continued fighting in Afghanistan threatens the entire region.
The new Central Asian states have virtually barricaded their borders with Afghanistan, fearing the Taliban may try to export its harsh form of Islam beyond its borders - despite promises from the Taliban that it won't.
The Taliban, which controls roughly 85 percent of Afghanistan, says its brand of Islam is rooted in the Koran. The northern-based opposition, however, says the Taliban's version of Islam reflects ancient tribal traditions.
Besides the cease-fire and prisoner exchange, the agenda of the talks in Islamabad also includes forming a council of religious scholars to govern the country.
The problem so far has been that neither side can agree on who qualifies as a religious scholar.