Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States have sat down to talks aimed at laying the ground for a negotiated end to almost 15 years of war between US-supported government forces and Taliban insurgents now firmly on the offensive.
Taliban forces have stepped up their campaign in the last year to topple the Kabul government, which has struggled since most foreign troops left at the end of 2014. High-profile suicide attacks and Taliban territorial gains in Helmand province have underlined how far Afghanistan remains from peace.
The Taliban, who now control or contest more territory than at any time since they were ousted by a US-led intervention in 2001, will not attend the talks.
Representatives from the four countries met in Kabul to revive a peace process that collapsed last summer.
Any further delay by the Taliban "to come to the table for talks now will further isolate them in the eyes of the Afghan people", Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said in his opening remarks.
The ultimate goal of the diplomatic manoeuvring is to get representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban into direct negotiations. A previous round of talks took place in Islamabad a week ago.
A suicide bomber who killed 13 people in eastern Afghanistan and a rocket which landed near the Italian embassy in Kabul on Sunday were a reminder of what is at stake.
"The talks are strategically important for everyone involved, but are unlikely to go anywhere right now," said S Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group. "The Taliban are making gains and the army is on the defensive. Until there is a stalemate, the talks are unlikely to succeed."
Afghanistan's chief negotiator said last week Monday's talks (local time) would focus on creating a plan to persuade the Taliban to give up violence.
Although the Afghan army and the Taliban are intensifying fighting on the battlefield, a political settlement is seen as the most likely solution to the conflict.
A statement on a Taliban website on Saturday did not rule out joining talks but rejected US involvement, saying the country was to blame for a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans.
"On the other hand, they take the first row among peace negotiators," the statement said.