Pakistan, Taliban urge revival of peace talks


–PM meets Taliban delegation, says Pakistan will continue to play its role for Afghan peace

–FM Qureshi says speedy resumption of talks will help bring ‘peace, stability and prosperity for future generations of Afghanistan’

–Islamabad says reduction of violence by all parties necessary to provide enabling environment for talks revival

ISLAMABAD: A delegation of senior Afghan Taliban leaders on Thursday held separate meetings Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood, as both sides called for the resumption of talks on a peaceful resolution for the war in Afghanistan.

The appeal, made during a rare Taliban visit to Islamabad, comes after months-long US-Taliban negotiations collapsed in September and President Donald Trump announced the talks with the insurgents were “dead”.

The timing of the Taliban visit, which coincided with that of Washington’s special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who was also in Islamabad on Thursday for “consultations” with Pakistani officials,  appears to indicate Pakistan is seeking to help restart the talks.

In the meeting with the Taliban mission, PM Imran stressed the need for peace in Afghanistan, which he termed was crucial for regional stability, said sources. He also assured that Pakistan would continue its efforts for peace in Kabul.

Earlier, FM Qureshi met with the 12-member Taliban team, headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of their political office in Qatar. The Pakistani side also included intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood and others.

A TV footage showed Gen Hameed hugging members of the Taliban delegation, including Baradar, who was released in 2018, years after he was detained in a joint operation carried out by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the CIA.

He was released to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.

In a statement, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said both sides agreed on Thursday that the peace process should be resumed as soon as possible.

According to the statement, Qureshi “reiterated Pakistan’s commitment and continued strong support” for all efforts aimed at resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.

It said that during the talks, it was “emphasized that reduction of violence by all parties to the conflict was necessary to provide an enabling environment for resumption of the peace process at an early date.”

Later, Qureshi told a gathering at a seminary in the central city of Multan that Pakistan was eager to see the resumption of US-Taliban talks but without naming anyone, warned “there are and there will be spoilers” who prefer unrest and chaos.

Before coming to Pakistan, the Taliban delegation traveled to Russia, China and Iran. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the delegation arrived in Islamabad late Wednesday.

Shahbudin Dilawar, an ex-Taliban ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said in a post on the official Taliban website, that the talks with Pakistan “will be focused on political issues.”

Those issues include education and health care for millions of Afghans living in Pakistan, as well as Taliban,  demand that an unspecified number of Afghans arrested in Pakistan “whose crimes are not serious” be released.

Meanwhile, a local media outlet reported that the Taliban also held delegation-level talks with US Special Envoy for the Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad at the US embassy in Islamabad.

Khalilzad had spent the last year negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, which seemed imminent until Sept. 7, when the talks collapsed amid a surge in deadly Taliban attacks across Afghanistan _ including one that killed a U.S. soldier _ and Trump declared the talks were over.

Since then, Pakistan has urged both sides to resume the talks. Qureshi on Thursday also vowed that Pakistan would continue to support all efforts to achieve permanent peace in Afghanistan, which the foreign minister described as essential for Pakistan’s own development and progress.

The Taliban-US talks, which Pakistan sincerely backed, had “laid a firm ground for achieving a sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan,” Qureshi said, urging their speedy resumption for the good of “peace, stability and prosperity for future generations of Afghanistan”.