The U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan was in Pakistan on Monday to express his gratitude for Islamabad’s role in helping launch the much-awaited negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan representatives, the Pakistani military said.
The historic negotiations kicked off over the weekend in Qatar, a Middle East nation where the Taliban have maintained a political office for the past several years. The start of negotiations was the latest in a flurry of diplomatic accomplishments by the Trump administration ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.
While the start of the talks on Saturday was mainly about ceremony, the hard negotiations on agreeing to a road map for a post-war Afghanistan will be held behind closed doors and over a number of sessions.
The sides will be tackling tough issues, including the terms of a permanent cease-fire, the rights of women and minorities, and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and militias loyal to warlords, some of them aligned with the government.
Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and a U.S. delegation visiting Pakistan praised its assistance in efforts aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the 19-year war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military said. The U.S. team met with Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday.
A military statement said the visiting delegation “greatly appreciated” Pakistan’s role in the ongoing peace process, saying that “it could not have succeeded without Pakistan’s sincere and unconditional support.”
Islamabad has for the past several years maintained that its influence over the Taliban is overstated but that it would do whatever is possible for peace in Afghanistan, saying that a stable Kabul was in its own interests.
In 2015, Pakistan hosted the first ever face-to-face talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, but the second round of the scheduled talks collapsed when the Afghan government announced the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The announcement strained ties between Kabul and Islamabad at the time. But since then, Washington has pressed Islamabad to help convince the Taliban to meet with the U.S. and Afghan officials. Last month, a Taliban political team led by the insurgents political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited Islamabad to consult with Pakistani officials.
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, scores of friends and families of those killed on Afghan battlefields gathered at a cemetery on Monday to call for a permanent countrywide cease-fire, which is expected to be first on the agenda of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Qatar.
By Munir Ahmed for the Associated Press in Islamabad, Pakistan.