The Afghan Taliban have rejected reports in the Pakistani media that they are prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad, and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government.
Pakistani newspapers and television stations reported that a meeting in Islamabad was in prospect following discussions between Khalilzad and Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Friday.
Senior Taliban leaders said that regional powers including Pakistan had approached them and wanted them to meet the US delegation in Islamabad, and also include the Afghan government in the peace process, but that the approaches had been rejected.
“We wanted to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement.
Talks between the two sides have stalled after the Taliban accused Khalilzad of straying from the agreed agenda, and there is no clarity on when they may resume.
“We have made it clear again and again that we would never hold any meeting with the Afghan government as we know that they are not capable of addressing our demands,” said one senior Taliban leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The United States says any settlement in Afghanistan must be between the internationally-recognised Afghan government and the Taliban, who have so far refused to talk to an administration that they describe as an illegitimate puppet regime.
The Taliban leader said that peace talks with the US delegation could resume if they were assured that only three issues would be discussed – a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners, and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders.
Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday and met Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other officials.
“The two sides reviewed developments post Abu Dhabi, in order to take the Afghan peace process forward,” a foreign office statement said.
An Afghan Taliban delegation had a round of talks last month with US officials in Abu Dhabi.
The statement did not give details on the talks, but several local TV channels reported that Pakistan agreed to host the next round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States in Islamabad.
Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who served as George W Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was named by the Trump administration four months ago as a special envoy to negotiate peace.
Diplomatic sources meanwhile said that Khalilzad has extended his stay in Pakistan.
According to the sources, the US envoy had been scheduled to leave for the US, but extended his stay following the decision to hold the next round of talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban.
“The return date has not been finalised. The US embassy will inform the foreign office of the new date,” the source added.
Khalilzad is on his fifth visit to the region for Afghan reconciliation since his appointment.
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