In this photo released by the Foreign Office, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, center, receives members of Taliban delegation at the Foreign Office in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Senior Taliban leaders are meeting with Qureshi in Islamabad as part of a push to revive an Afghanistan peace deal that has included stops in Russia, China and Iran. (Pakistan Foreign Office via AP)

Pakistan, Afghan Taliban call for resumption of peace talks

October 03, 2019 - 4:40 am

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Senior Afghan Taliban leaders and Pakistani officials on Thursday called for the resumption of talks on a peaceful resolution for the war in Afghanistan.

The appeal, made during a rare Taliban visit to Islamabad, comes after months-long U.S.-Taliban negotiations collapsed in September and President Donald Trump announced the talks with the insurgents were "dead."

The timing of the Taliban visit _ which coincided with that of Washington's special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who was also in Islamabad on Thursday for "consultations" with Pakistani officials _ appears to indicate Pakistan is seeking to help restart the talks.

In a statement, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said both sides agreed on Thursday that the peace process should be resumed as soon as possible.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with the 12-member Taliban team, headed by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of their political office in Qatar. The Pakistani side also included intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood and others.

TV footage showed Hameed hugging members of the Taliban delegation, including Baradar, who was released in 2018, years after he was detained in a joint operation carried out by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the CIA. He was released to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.

According to the ministry statement, Qureshi “reiterated Pakistan’s commitment and continued strong support” for all efforts aimed at resolving the conflict in Afghanistan. It said that during the talks, it was “emphasized that reduction of violence by all parties to the conflict was necessary to provide an enabling environment for resumption of the peace process at an early date.”

Later, Qureshi told a gathering at a seminary in the central city of Multan that Pakistan was eager to see the resumption of U.S.-Taliban talks but without naming anyone, warned “there are and there will be spoilers” who prefer unrest and chaos.

Before coming to Pakistan, the Taliban delegation traveled to Russia, China and Iran. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the delegation arrived in Islamabad late Wednesday.

Shahbudin Dilawar, an ex-Taliban ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said in a post on the official Taliban website, that the talks with Pakistan “will be focused on political issues.”

Those issues include education and health care for millions of Afghans living in Pakistan, as well as Taliban demands that an unspecified number of Afghans arrested in Pakistan “whose crimes are not serious” be released.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had spent the last year negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, which seemed imminent until Sept. 7, when the talks collapsed amid a surge in deadly Taliban attacks across Afghanistan _ including one that killed a U.S. soldier _ and Trump declared the talks were over.

Since then, Pakistan has urged both sides to resume the talks. Qureshi on Thursday also vowed that Pakistan would continue to support all efforts to achieve a permanent peace in Afghanistan, which the foreign minister described as essential for Pakistan’s own development and progress.

The Taliban-U.S. talks, which Pakistan sincerely backed, had “laid a firm ground for achieving a sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan,” Qureshi said, urging their speedy resumption for the good of “peace, stability and prosperity for future generations of Afghanistan”.

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Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Asim Tanveer and Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.