ISLAMABAD: President Donald Trump’s point man for Afghanistan on Friday held crucial talks with senior Pakistani civil and military authorities as part of ongoing efforts to seek a peaceful end to the lingering conflict in Afghanistan.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy and chief negotiator on Afghan peace, arrived in the federal capital from Doha where he held talks with the Afghan delegation headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
This was the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides since September when US President Donald Trump unexpectedly suspended talks, citing an attack in Kabul in which an American soldier was killed.
Trump paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan last month and said the United States and the Taliban had been engaged in ongoing peace talks and the Taliban wanted a ceasefire.
However, the real reason for the US walking away from the peace talks was the differences within the Trump administration, with some considered the draft deal as a document of surrender.
The draft deal agreed between the Taliban and the US in September envisaged a timeframe for the American troops withdrawal in return for insurgent groups, giving firm assurances of not allowing the Afghan soil to be used again by any terrorist organisations.
However, there was no mention of the ceasefire or intra-Afghan dialogue in the proposed deal.
The resumption of talks this week in Doha was primarily meant to convince the Taliban to agree to a truce as well as willingness to talk to the other Afghan groups including the government.
The Taliban have so far resisted those demands, insisting that they would discuss such issues once the deal is finalised with the US.
The Trump administration; however, wants the Taliban to incorporate the two demands in the ongoing negotiations.
For this purpose, Khalilzad was in Islamabad where he held separate talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Diplomatic sources said Khalizad briefed the Pakistani authorities on the progress of talks he held with the Taliban in Doha as well as future course of action.
The US is believed to have urged Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to show flexibility on the issues of ceasefire and intra-Afghan dialogue.
A statement issued by the Foreign Office said, the foreign minister underlined the need for a political settlement of the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan. Qureshi also assured the visiting US diplomat of Pakistan’s sincere and all-out support to make the ongoing process successful.
At the General Headquarters, Khalilzad called on the army chief. He was also accompanied by US Ambassador in Pakistan Paul Jones.
“Regional security situation with particular reference to ongoing Afghan reconciliation process was discussed,” said a brief statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
Meanwhile, US negotiators are taking a “brief pause” from talks with the Taliban after the militants launched a suicide attack on a US base outside Kabul killing two civilians, Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on Friday.
"I met Talibs today, I expressed outrage about attack on Bagram," Khalilzad wrote on Twitter, referring to the attack on Bagram air base on Wednesday which killed two people and injured more than 70 others.
"We're taking a brief pause for them to consult their leadership on this essential topic," he added.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Friday's meeting was "very good and friendly". "Both sides decided to resume the talks after a few days of break for consultation," he said.
The assault on Bagram base came despite the resumption of talks between the United States and the insurgent group days before in Qatar, as the parties look for a path to reduce violence or even reach a ceasefire, allowing a gradual withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan.
Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, security officials and more than 2,400 American service members have been killed in the almost two-decade-old war. There are currently about 13,000 US forces in Afghanistan as well as thousands of other NATO troops.
US officials have said U.S. forces could drop to 8,600 and still carry out an effective, core counter-terrorism mission as well as some limited advising for Afghan forces.
With additional input from Reuters