Islamabad/Doha | The Afghan Taliban on Thursday expressed willingness to travel to Pakistan and meet Prime Minister Imran Khan if he invites them for negotiations to end the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan, according to a media report.
The statement by the Taliban came hours after Khan returned to Islamabad after his maiden official visit to the US where he discussed the Afghan peace process with President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed to work together to end to the conflict.
During the meeting, Trump said that Pakistan would help the US “extricate” itself from Afghanistan, adding there was “tremendous potential” in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
Interestingly, Khan was accompanied by Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed during the talks at the White House.
Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar’s capital Doha, told the BBC Urdu that if Prime Minister Khan extended a formal invitation, they will accept it.
“We frequently visit countries in the region and would surely go to Pakistan, too, which is our Muslim neighbour, if there is a formal invitation from Islamabad,” he said.
Media reports say the US is negotiating for a deal by September 1 that would see international forces pull out of Afghanistan in return for Taliban security guarantees, including a pledge that Afghanistan will not become a safe haven for terror groups.
Before Khan’s visit to Washington, representatives of China, Russia, the US and Pakistan held consultation on the Afghan peace process in Beijing on July 10-11.
US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who is currently holding talks with the Taliban to work out an agreement for withdrawal of the US troops and participation of the rebel group in the Afghan government, attended the meeting.
The four countries had jointly urged the Taliban to immediately agree to a ceasefire and begin direct negotiations with the Afghanistan government to end the violence in the war-torn country.
In a joint statement, they said the negotiations should be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” and produce a peace framework as soon as possible.
“This framework should guarantee the orderly and responsible transition of the security situation and detail an agreement on a future inclusive political arrangement acceptable to all Afghans,” the statement said.
The Taliban leadership has divided the process of peace negotiations into internal and external phases, which include talks with the Afghan government and the US-led foreign forces present in the country, the spokesperson added.
Earlier in June, Islamabad urged all sides to move towards a political solution for lingering conflict in Afghanistan in an attempt to reaffirm commitment to the Afghan peace deal.
On his way back to Pakistan, Prime Minister Khan stopped over at Doha and held talks with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani.
While in the US, Khan said he plans to meet with the Taliban to persuade them to hold negotiations with the government in Afghanistan.
While delivering a public talk at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, Khan noted that for the first time in the 18-year Afghan conflict, Pakistan and the US were working together to advance peace efforts in the neighboring country.
Khan spoke a day after he met with President Donald Trump at the White House where the two leaders agreed to work together to end to the conflict.
“Now, when I go back after meeting President Trump I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government so that the elections in Afghanistan must be inclusive where the Taliban also participate in it,” he said.
The Taliban is strongly opposed to engaging in any formal intra-Afghan negotiations, involving the Kabul government, until securing a peace deal with the US.
Khan said that a Taliban delegation had wanted to meet him a few months back but he had to cancel the meeting because of objections from the Afghan government. He said he has now spoken to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about his possible upcoming meeting with the insurgent group, the Voice of America quoted the Pakistani prime minister as saying.
Afghan leaders have consistently accused Pakistan of covertly backing the Taliban-led violent insurgency in their country, charges Pakistani officials have rejected.
American and Taliban officials in their months-long talks are said to have come close to concluding an agreement toward ending the Afghan war.
The proposed truce would require the insurgents to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for international terrorists in exchange for US troops leaving the country.
The Trump administration has intensified its efforts to seek a negotiated settlement of America’s longest war in Afghanistan where the US has lost over 2,400 soldiers since late 2001, when it invaded the country after the 9/11 terror attacks.