The Taliban in a statement on Monday confirmed that its delegation has held talks with the US representatives in Doha, Qatar after the US side accepted the agenda tabled by the group for discussion.
"Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha, the capital of Qatar.The session will also continue tomorrow," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban.
This comes shortly after US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad's visit to Islamabad where he met senior Pakistani civilian and military officials including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi Qureshi, as well as Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, to help cement concrete steps for the peace process in Afghanistan.
"We’re heading in the right direction with more steps by Pakistan coming that will lead to concrete results," Khalilzad tweeted after meeting top Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Sunday.
In the meantime, US republican senator Lindsey Graham has said that he will ask US President Donald Trump to hold a meeting with leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan to help end the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan through reconciliation and negotiations. The 17-year long conflict which originally erupted in the aftermath of US military intervention against the Taliban regime in 2001 has claimed thousands of lives of Afghan civilians and security force members with peace still distant despite intense diplomacy and international efforts in recent years.
“I am going to urge him (US President Donald Trump) to meet with the prime minister as soon as practical. I think they will hit it off, similar personalities, and Prime Minister Khan was criticized over the decades, over the past 10 or 20 years, about talking about reconciling with the Taliban. He was right. One thing I would say is that the war in Afghanistan will end through reconciliation,” he said after meeting senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Sunday.
Nevertheless, officials from the High Peace Council (HPC) have expressed hope that the current diplomatic efforts between the countries involved on the situation in Afghanistan will lead to direct peace negotiation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. However the Taliban, who claim to have control over large swathes of land in Afghanistan, have denied calls by the international community to engage in intra-Afghan dialogue.
“We are paving the way for a swift start of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government delegation so that the year of 2019 marks the year of the beginning of talks,” said HPC spokesman, Sayed Ehsan Tahiri.
In addition to this, an American delegation led by Gen Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Centcom met Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Sunday, Pakistan Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
Geo-strategic environment, regional security and the Afghanistan peace and reconciliation process were discussed during the meeting, it said, adding that the visiting dignitary appreciated Pakistan Army’s efforts for regional peace and stability.
Last February, President Ashraf Ghani during the second Kabul Process meeting offered unconditional peace talks with the Taliban as part of his efforts to cement concrete steps towards bringing the group to the peace table. However he clarified later that an unconditional peace offer to the Taliban does not mean the end of the war in the country.
Later, the Taliban rejected the Afghan government’s offer of peace talks and the response was another blow to hopes that an unprecedented Eid ceasefire, announced by the Afghan government and the Taliban, could be a step towards more lasting peace.
This new development takes place amid a deteriorating security situation which has gripped the Afghans since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001. Afghan civilians and members of security forces have been dying in record numbers in the face of a resurgent Taliban in the country.
In a new spate of violence on Monday, a Taliban suicide bomber blew up a car loaded with explosives close to a base of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency in Maidan Shahr, the capital of Maidan Wardak province only few miles east of Capital Kabul, killing and wounding dozens of Afghan security personnel.
The Trump administration initiated direct contact with the Taliban in July last year, but the recent meeting in United Arab Emirates last month was facilitated by the Pakistani government, after Trump requested Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to help in the reconciliation process. Washington has, therefore, ramped up pressure on Islamabad to play its role in overcoming the gridlock and moving towards intra-Afghan dialogue.