ISLAMABAD: A high-level delegation from the Afghan Taliban will hold talks on “important issues” with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Pakistan, the insurgent group’s political spokesman said on Wednesday, though a US official denied Khalilzad’s visit to Islamabad was part of the formal peace process.
The Taliban delegation, led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s cofounder, was expected to reach Pakistan on Wednesday, a day after Khalilzad — the top US diplomat involved in talks with the militants — arrived in Islamabad.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that Pakistan has officially extended an invitation to the Taliban Political Commission (TPC) in Doha.
“The visit will provide an opportunity to review the progress made under US-Taliban peace talks so far, and the possibilities of resuming the political settlement process in Afghanistan,” the statement said.
The Taliban’s visit is the latest stop on a tour of regional powers and comes after efforts by the militants and the US to reach a deal allowing for the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Last week, US President Donald Trump also met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in America and discussed the Afghan peace process.
“We have stated on several occasions that we are ready for the resumption of the talks with Khalilzad in Pakistan if he is willing,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said via phone from Doha, where the group’s political office is based. “There is no problem from our side.”
A spokesperson from the US Embassy in Islamabad said that Khalilzad this week was “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.”
The US has long considered Pakistani cooperation as crucial to ending the decades-long war in Afghanistan.
Trump last month halted peace talks with the Taliban aimed at striking a deal allowing US and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, following the death of a US soldier and 11 others in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter that the Afghan government should be involved in any peace process: “No progress will be imminent if a peace process is not owned and led by the Afghan government,” he said.
The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, dismissing it as a US puppet. Taliban officials have in recent days visited Russia, China and Iran.
The Taliban delegation is due to meet with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, according to an official statement by the Foreign Office.