Hopes for a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict revived on Wednesday with the arrival of the US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation and Taliban political negotiators in the federal capital.
It was unclear if the two main sides to the conflict would meet for the first time since US President Donald Trump scuttled talks between Washington and the insurgents, slamming them for renewed violence which also claimed the life of an American serviceman.
The United States has long considered Pakistani cooperation crucial to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.
An 11-member Afghan Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in the federal capital on Wednesday.
US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad has already been in Islamabad with a five-member team and met with Pakistani officials in an effort to review the Afghan peace efforts.
Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen announced the visit on Twitter and said the delegation will hold discussions with Pakistani officials on a range of key issues.
Pakistan later confirmed the development, saying an invitation has been extended to the Taliban Political Commission (TPC) in Doha for a visit.
“The visit would provide an opportunity to review the progress made under the US-Taliban peace talks so far, and discuss the possibilities of resuming the paused political settlement process in Afghanistan,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office.
The programme for the TPC delegation’s meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is being finalised, it added.
It is not clear whether Taliban delegation would also meet Prime Minister Imran Khan.
A Foreign Office source said the Taliban delegation is likely to meet the Prime Minister as well as the US delegation, which is already in the town.
Trump pulled out of the peace process after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier.
The US president had disclosed last month that he was to hold a secret meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David as part of efforts to push through the peace deal.
Trump’s sudden move derailed the nine-month long painstaking negotiations between the US and the insurgents group in Doha, with the latter claiming the deal was already finalised and only to be signed by both the parties.
The visit of the US and Taliban delegations has revived the hopes for the peace deal. Officials are confident that the current efforts would lead to a breakthrough.
Prime Minister Imran during his recent visit to United Nations General Assembly session in New York stated that Pakistan would do whatever it could to bring the peace process back on track.
Pakistan and the US have not provided much insight into the current negotiations. A US embassy official, while confirming the visit of Khalilzad, said: “These consultations follow discussions held between the United States and Pakistan during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.”
The statement would not provide further details nor say if the US delegation would meet the visiting Taliban leaders.
This is Mullah Baradar’s first visit to Pakistan since he was released from custody in October last year at the request of US.
Baradar, who co-founded the Taliban movement with Mullah Umar, was arrested from Karachi in a joint ISI-CIA operation in 2010. At that time, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had strongly criticised his arrest since Baradar was engaged in talks with his administration.