Veteran United States diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad — Washington's newly named point man tasked with finding a peaceful end to Afghanistan's 17-year war — arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday to seek the help of the new PTI-led government in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad from neighbouring Afghanistan where he met with President Ashraf Ghani, a long-time friend.
Delegation level talks between Pakistan and the US on Afghan reconciliation process were held at the foreign office, according to Radio Pakistan. The Pakistani side was led by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and the US side by Khalilzad.
Afterwards, he called on Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The foreign minister said that Pakistan will continue to play its role for a political solution to the Afghan conflict, Radio Pakistan reported.
Both the leaders agreed to continue cooperation on Afghan reconciliation process.
Khalilzad, who was also born in Afghanistan, first served in Kabul as a special envoy of President George W Bush following the 2001 ouster of the Taliban and then as Washington's ambassador to Afghanistan.
But, Khalilzad has a prickly relationship with Pakistan, having often accused Islamabad of fomenting violence in Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday had urged the Trump administration's new envoy to be more sensitive to Pakistani opinion than he has been as a private citizen.
“He's been given a new role, and I hope, I would urge him to be more sensitive to opinion in Pakistan,” Qureshi had told the US Institute of Peace, a Washington think tank.
Qureshi had pointed out that there had been a negative reaction in the Pakistani press to the appointment because Khalilzad “has made statements in the past which have not been, to be put it mildly, very friendly to Pakistan”.
Washington and Kabul have both repeatedly accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for Taliban insurgents, a claim Islamabad has denied and countered with charges that its own insurgents have found sanctuary in Afghanistan.
Both neighbouring countries have been brutally targeted by militants.
Middle East stopovers
The tour, which was first announced by the US State Department as a mission to coordinate and lead US efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, has been shrouded in secrecy.
Khalilzad is also expected to visit United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — where the Taliban maintain a political office.
In July, the Taliban had said they met there with Alice Wells, Washington's then-top diplomat in the region.
Washington has neither denied nor confirmed the meeting though Wells was in Qatar at the time.
It is not known whether there would be a similar meeting with Khalilzad on his visit. The Taliban have refused so far to comment on Khalilzad's appointment.
Direct talks with the US have been a persistent demand of the Taliban, who accuse Ghani's government of being America's "puppets".
The Afghan Taliban have condemned Afghanistan's parliamentary elections later this month and threatened more attacks on Afghan security forces.
In a statement on Monday, which was also released in English, the Taliban also urged Afghan candidates to withdraw their names from the ballot lists.
They denounced the polls as an America-designed ploy to further US interests in Afghanistan and warned Afghan security forces that they would be targeted.
The statement also repeated the long-standing Taliban demand for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.