After Khalilzad, Taliban team arrives in Pakistan

PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday their 12-member delegation visiting Islamabad on an official invitation of the Pakistan government which would brief the host country’s leadership about their failed peace talks with the United States.

President Donald Trump on September 8 abruptly called off the peace talks with Taliban after accusing the group of using violence to strengthen its bargaining position in the negotiations and causing the death of an American serviceman in a suicide attack in Kabul.

Also, Taliban sources told this correspondent that their delegation, led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is likely to meet US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has already arrived in Islamabad.

Besides Mullah Baradar, who is head of Taliban’s Qatar-based Political Commission, 11 other Taliban members including Mullah Fazil Akhund, Mohammad Nabi Omari, Abdul Haq Waseeq, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Ameer Khan Muttaqi, Matiul Haq Khalis, Abdul Salam Hanafi, Ziaur Rahman Madani, Shahabuddin Dilawar, Syed Rasool Haleem and Nibrasul Haq Aziz, are part of the delegation.

Before coming to Pakistan, Taliban had already travelled to Russia, Iran and China after being invited and apprised them about the peace process in Doha. Taliban said that following collapse of the peace talks with the US, they decided to meet world leaders and apprise them of the year-long peace process with the US.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for Taliban Political Commission, said Pakistan’s Foreign Office had invited them earlier also, but they could not come as they were then busy in the peace talks with the US negotiating team. In February this year, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had told media that their delegation would visit Pakistan. Later, he said the visit was postponed after the United Nations stopped them from visiting Islamabad.

Prime Minister Imran Khan at that time had a different stance because he said he cancelled his meeting with Taliban delegation after objections were raised by the Afghan government.

Though President Trump had officially scrapped the peace process, there are strong indications that the Taliban leadership during their stay in Islamabad would meet the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Khalilzad had held a detailed meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan during his recent visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly session.

Before flying to the US, Imran Khan had stated that he would try to convince President Trump to revive the peace negotiations with Taliban. “If they (US) desired, our leadership can meet them in Islamabad,” Suhail Shaheen said, when asked about the chances of Taliban delegation meeting with Khalilzad.

Foreign Office Spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal was quoted in the media as saying that the Taliban delegation’s visit to Islamabad will help provide an opportunity to restore the peace talks, aimed at finding a political solution to Afghan issue.

He said Pakistan extended an invitation to the Taliban’s Political Commission in Doha for the visit. He reportedly said progress on talks would be reviewed during the Taliban visit to Islamabad. He said the details of the Taliban delegation’s meeting with the foreign minister were being finalised.

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