ISLAMABAD: The crucial Islamabad-brokered talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban are said to have made progress, despite the insurgent group insistence that negotiations should only focus on withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan.
The three-day parleys in Abu Dhabi hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were attended by representatives of the Afghan Taliban, the US as well as officials from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
It was the first time that the Taliban’s both military and political leaders attended a negotiation – something that has renewed hopes of a possible peace deal. Previously, the Taliban were only represented by their political office in Qatar.
The presence of the Taliban leaders like Mullah Amir Mutaqi, Qari Yahya, Mullah Mohibullah Hamas and Mullah Abbas Akhund at the UAE talks suggests seriousness of the insurgent group towards the latest round of discussions facilitated by Pakistan.
“Had productive meetings in the UAE with Afghan and international partners to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in #Afghanistan,” said, in a tweet, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the US side at the talks.
After conclusion of the talks, Khalilzad flew to Islamabad and held an important meeting with the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“Just met with #Pakistan leaders to update them on the state of play following our meetings in the UAE. Looking forward to meeting Afghan leaders in Kabul, #Afghanistan tonight,” the US special envoy said before departing for Kabul.
The military’s media wing also confirmed the meeting. In a statement, the Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor said regional security and Afghan peace process were discussed during the army chief’s meeting with the US special envoy.
He said Khalilzad appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for Afghan peace process while General Qamar reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured continued efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region.
In a separate statement, the UAE government said it hosted the US-Taliban reconciliation talks in Abu Dhabi, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. “The two-day Afghan reconciliation conference fructified in tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned,” the statement said.
According to the statement, another round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process. “Saudi Arabia and the UAE extend their thanks to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well as the US, Pakistani and Taliban delegations for their effective participation and support for ensuring the success of the conference,” according to the UAE’s state-run news agency .
No further details have been available as to what exactly transpired in the Abu Dhabi meetings.
The Taliban spokesperson, however, claimed that discussions focused on the complete withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. The spokesperson dismissed reports that any proposal was under consideration regarding the setting up of interim government in Afghanistan or a 6-month ceasefire.
Many observers believe that the Taliban statement may just be meant for its foot soldiers and elements who are not in favour of striking a peace deal with the US or Afghan government.
The latest push for a peace deal came after President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan’s help for the negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict.