ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – A political delegation of the Afghan Taliban visited Pakistan Wednesday to discuss the Afghan peace process.
A statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said the visit was “part of Pakistan’s policy to reach out to key Afghan parties in the Afghan peace process with a view to facilitating the Intra-Afghan Negotiations.”
The Afghan Foreign Ministry said in a statement the visit had taken place in consultation with the Afghan government to facilitate the peace process and that Kabul “appreciates these efforts.”
The delegation, led by the head of Taliban’s political wing Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, met Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Wednesday and is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan during the visit.
Qureshi, who was meeting the Afghan delegation for the third time, said they had a comprehensive discussion on the Afghan peace negotiations, including the need for reduction in violence leading to a ceasefire.
He added, however, that the “Taliban cannot be held single-handedly responsible for it. All sides had a role to play.”
He also said Pakistan has told Taliban that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan was not possible without a “comprehensive and inclusive settlement.”
The Taliban, he said, had expressed their desire to end the decades of conflict that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Afghanistan.
While welcoming the visit, the Afghan government also expected it to yield results.
“Kabul hopes that the Taliban delegation’s visit to Islamabad proves useful as a practical and constructive measure towards achieving the expected results,” the Afghan statement said. Its list of expectations included an immediate reduction in violence, a comprehensive ceasefire, and constructive peace negotiations.
The visit came on a day when Taliban militants attacked and killed at least 13 security personnel in Baghlan in northern Afghanistan, according to Ayenudin Sayadi head of the Baghlan provincial hospital.
Javed Basharat, a spokesman for Baghlan police, said security forces near provincial capital Pul-e-Khumri came under attack from multiple sides.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan, reaching a ten-year high, since the Afghan insurgent group signed a deal in February with the United States that included a timeline for foreign forces to withdraw from the country. In return, Taliban promised to break ties with Al-Qaida and provide counter terrorism guarantees in areas under their control.
The Afghan government as well as other international stakeholders, including the United States, the United Nations, NATO, and human rights groups have all called for a ceasefire.
The Taliban have so far resisted those demands. Analysts say violence is the most potent card the group holds during negotiations and it would be loath to let it go so early in the process.
Negotiations between Taliban and the Afghan government officially started in Doha, Qatar on September 12, 2020, and have since made some progress. The two teams have taken a break from Dec 14 to Jan 5 for internal deliberations.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called for the next round of negotiations to be held in Afghanistan.
The Taliban, which does not acknowledge Ghani’s administration as a legitimate government, has rejected the idea.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told VOA “spoilers of the peace process” were making such demands. “They are opposed to the process and creating roadblocks because their personal power and interests are in danger.”
Separately, the Afghan negotiation team met Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, in Kabul Wednesday. A statement from Abdullah’s office said the location of the second round of peace talks will be selected soon.
Earlier in the day, Abdullah said while holding negotiations in Afghanistan was preferable, selection of a venue should not become a stumbling block in the process.
(VOA’s Ayaz Gul contributed to this story.)