Ayaz Gul – Voice of America
ISLAMABAD - U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political negotiators have arrived in neighboring Pakistan amid a renewed diplomatic push to resurrect peace talks between Washington and the insurgent group.
The Taliban delegation arrived in Islamabad early Wednesday hours after the Khalilzad-led team landed in the Pakistani capital. Both the teams will stay in the country for several days.
While both sides insisted they are visiting Pakistan for official meetings with representatives of the host government, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told VOA “I don’t rule out” direct talks between the 11-member insurgent team and the U.S. delegation. He said the Taliban delegation will stay in Islamabad until October 6.
The widely unexpected visits come several weeks after President Donald Trump abruptly called off the yearlong U.S.-Taliban talks just when the two adversaries had come close to signing a peace agreement that could have ended the 18-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest overseas military intervention.
A U.S. embassy spokesperson told VOA Khalilzad, who led the U.S. team in the peace talks with the Taliban, is in Islamabad “this week participating in consultations” with Pakistani counterparts.
“These consultations follow discussions held between the United States and Pakistan during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week,” said the spokesperson without giving further details.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in his separate meetings with Trump and Khalilzad in New York urged the United States to resume and conclude the peace process with the Taliban to bring an end to the deadly Afghan war.
Shaheen told VOA that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy Taliban chief for political affairs and head of the group’s office in Qatar, is leading the Taliban delegation, saying it comprises members of the team that held nine rounds of peace negotiations with the U.S. side.
Shaheen said in their meetings with Pakistani foreign ministry officials, Taliban delegates will discuss “a wide range of key issues” and the fate of the defunct peace deal with the United States.
In his surprising twitter announcement on September 7, Trump said he was canceling the dialogue process because of continued Taliban attacks on Afghans and American troops.
“The agreement has been finalized and it only needs to be signed. Even both sides had agreed to ink the document a week later on September 13 and intra-Afghan negotiations would have then started ten days later on September 23. But Trump’s tweet disrupted everything,” Shaheen lamented.
He asserted that the American side has backtracked from the peace deal, but that the Taliban “still stands by it steadfast” and wants to conclude it to carry the Afghan peace process forward.
“If someone is interested in a resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, the agreement we have worked out after a yearlong effort offers the solution,” Shaheen said.
But he warned that if the other side remains focused on using military force to seek a solution the war in Afghanistan will go on as it has been for the last 18 years, saying the Taliban is determined to fight until the country is freed from the “foreign occupation.”