ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the US is going to hold a crucial round of talks in the federal capital today (Thursday) to discuss the ongoing Afghan peace process which, officials believe, entered a decisive phase.
US special representative for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, along with senior officials are scheduled to meet Pakistani civil and military authorities to review the progress in the Afghan peace talks, officials told The Express Tribune on Wednesday.
Khalilzad is traveling to Islamabad as a follow-up of the recent visit by Prime Minister Imran Khan to Washington where he had assured President Donald Trump that Pakistan would do ‘whatever in its power’ to facilitate the Afghan peace process.
The US, it is said, has requested Pakistan to persuade the Afghan Taliban to declare a permanent ceasefire and hold intra-Afghan dialogue.
Talks between Pakistan and the US are taking place amid reports that the Trump administration is close to signing an MoU with the Taliban during the upcoming talks in Doha.
The MoU is reportedly about the timeframe for the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban guarantees of not allowing the Afghan soil to be ever used again by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
Khalilzad, who so far held eight rounds of talks with the Taliban in Doha, was in Kabul this week to take the Afghan government on board about the possible MoU the US is planning to sign with the Taliban.
Khalilzad is due to travel to Doha soon to hold another round of negotiations with the Taliban. But before that he has decided to make a stopover in Islamabad on his way to Doha.
“I’m off to Doha, with a stop in Islamabad. In Doha, if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours, and conclude the agreement we have been working on,” Khalilzad tweeted.
“Wrapping up my most productive visit to #Afghanistan since I took this job as Special Rep. The US and Afghanistan have agreed on next steps. And a negotiating team and technical support group are being finalized,” he added.
Reports suggest that once the US and the Taliban agreed on a framework for the troop withdrawal, the next phase would focus on the intra-Afghan dialogue and seeking a permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan.
Last week, an Afghan minister announced that a 15-member government delegation would be soon meeting the Taliban in some European country in first direct talks with the insurgents.
The Taliban; however, were quick to reject the claims, insisting that they would only enter into talks with other Afghan rival groups — including the Ghani administration — once the deal with the US was struck.
Given that now the Taliban and the US are close to signing a deal, it is likely that the insurgent groups will go ahead meeting the Afghan government’s delegation in Oslo next week.
The official sources said Pakistan as a responsible country was playing a constructive role in facilitating the peace process.
But Pakistan is also treading a careful path as Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi clarified the other day that Islamabad would only facilitate but not become a guarantor in the Afghan peace deal.