Tuesday Dec 18, 2018
ISLAMABAD/DUBAI: Officials of the United States and the Afghan Taliban convened on Monday, with the assistance of Pakistan, in a renewed bid to conclude the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan.
Participants in the December 17 meeting, sources said, have jointly agreed to continue the talks. They also comprised officials from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the primary agenda being the gradual withdrawal of the forces of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The sources also mentioned that the Taliban would revert back after discussing the matter with their shura (council) and then meet for a second time with Zalmay Khalilzad, the Secretary Pompeo-appointed US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation.
On the other hand, Khalilzad is believed to have debriefed the top Afghan officials in the government on the progress made during the talks.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, also confirmed on Twitter that the representatives from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the UAE were taking part in the meeting, which follows at least two prior ones between the Taliban and Khalilzad in Qatar.
The Taliban, for some time, have refused engaging in talks with representatives of the Afghan government. However, while the US has confirmed that it held meetings in Abu Dhabi on the issue of Afghan reconciliation, it has refused to confirm the participation of Khalilzad or any other US official in reconciliatory talks with the Taliban.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said on Twitter: "Alongwith with international community and other stakeholders, Pakistan is commited to peace and reconciliation in #Afghanistan.
"We hope this will end bloodshed in Afghanistan and bring peace to the region," he wrote.
Last week, on Saturday, Washington had said it welcomed Islamabad's actions to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a US embassy spokesperson in Kabul told Voice of America.
The acknowledgement had come a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the country had arranged another round of US peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.
The meetings come as diplomatic efforts to resolve the Afghan conflict have intensified, although the Taliban have so far refused to deal directly with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which it considers illegitimate.
The Taliban say the presence of international forces in Afghanistan is the main obstacle to peace but have said that issues including mutual recognition with the Kabul government, constitutional changes, and women’s rights can be negotiated.