The US, in an effort to end the 19-year-old war, began negotiations with the Doha-based Taliban Political Committee in 2018. The talks were led by US President Trump’s Advisor on the Afghan peace process with Zalmay Khalilzad on one side and former CIA prisoner Mullah Baradar on the other.
A peace agreement between the two sides had seemed imminent until Trump abruptly called off talks on Sept 7 citing the death of a US soldier in Afghanistan. He said the efforts to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban were “dead”.
However, absent from the “Afghan Peace Process,” Pakistan offered to play the role of a mediator to find a peaceful solution to a region mired in conflict for the last 30 years.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, while meeting Trump on the sidelines of the UNGA meeting, said the “Afghan Peace Process” should continue in order to end the 19-year-old US war in Afghanistan. Khan said that Pakistan will play its role in bringing both sides back to the table. The recent developments in the last week seemed to suggest that Pakistan might have been successful in urging both sides to resume talks albeit unofficially.
Upon arrival of Khalilzad in Islamabad for a week-long visit, Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Oct 2 invited the Taliban’s political committee to the country. Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the “visit would provide the opportunity to review the progress made under US-Taliban peace talks so far, and discuss the possibilities of resuming the paused political settlement process in Afghanistan.”
On Oct 3, Taliban’s 12-member delegation led by Mullah Baradar arrived in Islamabad to meet Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Despite the opportune presence of both Khalilzad and Baradar in Pakistan, official statements from both US and Taliban did not hint at resumption of talks.
The US Embassy said that Khalilzad was in Islamabad to meet with Pakistan officials and follow up on talks between Trump and Khan. The embassy in a press release said that his visit did “not represent a re-start of the Afghan Peace Process.”
On the other hand, the TPC also shied away from commenting upon Khalilzad’s presence in the country. The committee’s spokesperson, in an official statement, said that the delegation’s agenda with Pakistan included “issues of restoration of peace and security in the region.”
Taliban delegation met with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who said that “the direct Taliban-US talks since last year, strongly and sincerely supported by Pakistan, had now laid a firm ground for achieving a sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan.”
“Both sides agreed on the need for earliest resumption of the peace process” while emphasizing “the need for reduction of violence by all parties to the conflict … to provide an enabling environment for resumption of the peace process at an early date,” he stressed while commenting on the future of talks.
But as US and Taliban tiptoe for an unofficial meeting, Pakistan can play a pivotal role in ensuring a peaceful solution for the conflicted region.