WASHINGTON: The United States has said that it welcomes Pakistan’s efforts to promote peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The acknowledgement came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Pakistan had arranged another round of talks between the US and Taliban officials but he did not say when and where.
But Voice of America (VOA) radio’s Dari service reported on Sunday that US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad is likely to meet Taliban representatives in Islamabad on Monday (today). Previous talks were held in Doha, Qatar.
“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a US embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.
Mr Khalilzad, had met, and would continue to meet, all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.
VOA reported that two weeks ago Mr Khalilzad asked Pakistani authorities to facilitate the Afghan peace process.
And on Saturday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced that Pakistan had asked the Taliban “to lay down their arms and prepare for talks”.
Mr Qureshi said that while “Pakistan can help with these talks, the Afghan government, the Taliban and other groups must begin their own compromises and dialogues”.
Mr Khalilzad — 14 days into an 18-day visit to the region — has travelled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the UAE and Qatar.
This will not be the first time for Mr Khalilzad to meet the Taliban. He has already held two rounds of talks with them in Doha. The US media described these talks as “preliminary discussions”, adding that Washington hopes these contacts would pave the way for more substantial talks on a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump wrote to Prime Minister Khan, seeking his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Mr Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met the prime minister and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on President Trump’s request, VOA added.
The prime minister told reporters in Peshawar on Friday that the US had changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad was not doing enough, as US officials have previously insisted.
On Saturday, China also pledged to help Afghanistan and Pakistan overcome longstanding suspicions, as officials from the three nations met in Kabul to explore possibilities for engaging the Taliban.
The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, met the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Kabul on Saturday to prepare a memorandum of understanding on how to support Afghanistan’s efforts to open talks with the Taliban.
“China approves of this, and is willing to provide support and help for Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve their ties,” Mr Wang told reporters after the meeting.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018