ISLAMABAD — A Taliban team, led by the co-founder of the insurgent movement, arrived Wednesday in Islamabad for talks with Pakistani government leaders amid growing calls for a reduction in violence in Afghanistan.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and his delegation were summoned to Islamabad from Qatar, where they have been negotiating since September with Afghan government representatives, officials close to the talks said. The visit comes a day after U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad made a quick trip to Pakistan’s powerful military in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
The Pakistani military has wielded significant influence over the Taliban and has had links with some of the leaders — then part of the U.S.-backed mujahedeen — dating back to the 1980s war and the former Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban emerged in 1994 in response to runaway corruption and violence of mujahedeen warlords who took power from the former communist regime in 1992.
Pakistan was key in getting the Taliban to the negotiation table with the United States in 2018. Those talks eventually led to the U.S.-Taliban deal that was signed in February, providing for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan.
The deal also paved way for the start of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which began in September in efforts to hammer out a roadmap for post-war Afghanistan. The talks, after some recent procedural progress, have been suspended till early January though there is speculation the resumption could be further delayed.
Kabul has called for the talks to resume inside Afghanistan while the Taliban insist they continue in Doha, Qatar, where they maintain a political office.
Meanwhile, Washington has been increasingly frustrated by a spike in violence in Afghanistan and calls for a cease-fire have been reaching crescendo in both Kabul and in Washington.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted late Tuesday that “a high level delegation” led by Baradar “left for Islamabad at the official invitation” of Pakistan. The delegation was to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, as well as military officials.
However, it is unclear if the Taliban visit to Pakistan would yield any progress toward even a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump accelerated the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan earlier this month, with another 2,000 troops returning home by early January and leaving just 2,500 American soldiers behind.
The final withdrawal hinges on Taliban fulfilling their commitment to cut off al-Qaida and other militant groups and ensure that Afghan territory is not used for attacks on the United States. The Islamic State group — a rival of the Taliban — is seen as America’s greatest security threat in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad has called on both sides in the Qatar talks to press toward a political solution, but the stepped-up violence by the Taliban is undermining progress, according to officials familiar with the talks. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.
The Taliban have so far rejected that a cease-fire be on the agenda of the Qatar talks.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked military outposts in northern Baghlan and southern Uruzgan province late on Tuesday and early Wednesday. At least 19 Afghan security forces and 11 Taliban were killed in the fighting.
In Kabul, roadside bomb struck a vehicle early on Wednesday, wounding two people, according to the Kabul police spokesman, Ferdaws Faramarz. On Tuesday, a lawyer was shot and killed in the latest target killings sweeping the country. Afghan police have arrested two suspects in connection with the shooting.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.
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