Zalmay meets Taliban

Pakistan’s initiative for Afghan peace

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai
ISLAMABAD: A Taliban delegation met US Special Representative for Afghanistan ZalmayKhalilzad for more than an hour, two sources told Media, the first known contact between the sides since US President Donald Trump called off talks last month.
Trump halted the talks, which aimed at a plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, following the death of a US soldier and 11 others in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.
The Taliban is ready to stand by a tentative agreement struck in Doha before Trump canceled the talks, according to Pakistan’s foreign minister and sources from the militant group, who said the insurgents were eager to resumenegotiations. However the meeting in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad did not represent a resumption of formal negotiations, official sources cautioned. “The Taliban officials held a meeting with ZalmayKhalilzad … all I can tell you is that Pakistan played a big role in it to convince them how important it was for the peace process,” a senior Pakistan official told Reuters, but declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak publicly.
He added that the meeting, which was confirmed by a second source, did not involve formal negotiations on the peace process, but aimed at building confidence. He declined to elaborate further on the discussions.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah MehmoodQureshi told Reuters that the Taliban were set to meet with Khalilzad during their visits to Islamabad though he was not aware of what they discussed and exactly when a meeting was taking place. “They were due to meet ZalmayKhalilzad. I think that might have happened. I’m hoping that they have met,” he said on Friday. He added that the Taliban considered themselves as abiding by a tentative agreement signed with Khalilzad in Qatar before Trump called a halt to talks.
“They’re ready to own their commitment,” he said.
Two Taliban sources confirmed they viewed themselves as committed to the agreements reached in Doha and were disappointed when Trump pulled out of talks.
The US embassy in Islamabad and the State Department in Washington declined to comment on whether there had been a meeting between the Taliban and Khalilzad.
A State Department representative said Khalilzad had spent several days in Islamabad this week for consultations with authorities in Pakistan, but his meetings in Islamabad did not represent a restart of the Afghan peace process.