Afghan Taliban delegation to visit Islamabad to review peace talks progress

Updated October 02, 2019

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In this May 28 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, third from left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks in Moscow, Russia. — AP
In this May 28 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, third from left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks in Moscow, Russia. — AP

An Afghan Taliban delegation will visit Islamabad to review the progress made so far under the stalled US-Taliban peace talks, the Foreign Office (FO) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The government announcement comes hours after the Taliban said a delegation of the insurgent group will visit Islamabad today, the latest stop on a tour of regional powers after the Afghanistan peace process broke down.

"Pakistan has extended an invitation to Taliban Political Commission (TPC) in Doha for a visit," the FO statement said.

"The visit would provide the opportunity to review the progress made under US-Taliban peace talks so far, and discuss the possibilities of resuming the paused political settlement process in Afghanistan.

"Accordingly a Taliban delegation is scheduled to visit Islamabad," the press release said, without specifying a date.

According to the FO, arrangements are being finalised for the Taliban delegation's meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Earlier, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of their political office in Qatar, will lead the 11-member delegation during talks on important issues with Pakistani officials in Islamabad.

The Taliban's Doha-based spokesman, Shaheen told AFP that the simultaneous visits to Pakistan of US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban were a “coincidence”.

But when asked whether there was any possibility of the insurgents meeting with Khalilzad, he replied: “Why not? It depends on the Americans.”

The Taliban are still ready to sign the agreement which Khalilzad and Baradar had hashed out in Doha, he said.

“We have not backtracked from the agreement, we stand for it. The Americans have backtracked and they will have to take the initiative.” Talks were the only way forward, he added.

“There is no military solution to Afghanistan. The Americans did their best for 18 years... but they were not able to solve this issue,” Shaheen said.

“Better to sign the agreement, and then we will have a ceasefire with the Americans, and then intra-Afghan talks will be started immediately” to discuss issues “including a future government and a ceasefire. So that's the solution to the problem,” he told AFP.

On Tuesday, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Amb Zalmay Khalilzad also arrived in Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani civil and military leadership on reviving peace talks with Afghan Taliban.

A US official, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said Khalilzad is not in Islamabad to resume the peace process.

Rather the US peace envoy will follow up on discussions he held with Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, during the UN General Assembly session in New York.

It wasn’t immediately known if Khalilzad will meet with Taliban leader Baradar. The two men held several one-on-one meetings during the many rounds of negotiations held in Qatar where the Taliban maintain a political office.

Taliban officials have in recent days also visited Russia, China and Iran.

US and Taliban last month said they were close to reaching a deal, despite concern among some US security officials and within the Afghan government that a US withdrawal could plunge the country into even more conflict and open the way for a resurgence of militant factions. President Donald Trump then suddenly halted the talks, following the death of a US soldier and 11 other people in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.

A Taliban official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters that the delegation will inform Pakistan's leadership of the factors that derailed the talks with the US aimed at striking a deal allowing American and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

The Taliban also plan to follow up on Prime Minister Imran's recent comments ahead of a meeting in New York with President Trump, that he would try to convince the president to re-enter talks, the Taliban official added.

Over the past year, the Afghan government was sidelined in the US-Taliban talks with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with Kabul officials as they consider the Afghan government a US puppet. Meanwhile, Taliban attacks have continued unabated as Afghanistan held presidential elections on Saturday, marred by violence.