by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- Pakistani officials said they will work with the Afghan government for restoration of durable peace and stability and to boost cooperation in economic and trade fields, as the Taliban and the U.S. resumed their talks in Islamabad last week.
The Taliban representatives' meeting with U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad could be seen as the fruit of Pakistan's newest efforts to help in the Afghan peace process.
Pakistan invited the Taliban political representatives to visit the country last week to explore options for the revival of the political negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision in September to call off the peace talks with the Taliban. The U.S. president cited a Taliban-claimed attack in September that claimed 12 lives including that of a U.S. soldier and injured 42 others.
Reduction of violence is key to the trust-building between the Taliban and the U.S. that will ultimately lead to the revival of the peace process. Pakistan's invitation to the Taliban negotiators is a move towards that purpose.
A Pakistani official, who was part of the Pakistani team in talks with the Taliban, said that Pakistani civil and military leaders told the Taliban with "one voice" to reduce violence, as that will help pave the way for the trust-building with the U.S. and ultimately lead to the revival of the Qatar peace process.
"The Taliban negotiators' meeting with the U.S. peace envoy in Pakistan was an ice-breaking (activity) as it provided an opportunity to both sides to explore ways to bring the peace talks back on track," the official told Xinhua.
As the Taliban and Khalilzad concluded talks in Pakistan, U.S. authorities freed three senior Taliban leaders from the Bagram prison on Oct. 6 as a major confidence building measure to move forward to break the deadlock in the peace negotiations, according to media.
As a response, Taliban officials said they freed three Indian engineers, who were kidnapped from northern Baghlan province in May 2018.
Pakistan is also mediating a swap agreement for other detained Taliban militants and two foreign professors -- one from the U.S. and one from Australia -- who were kidnapped by the Taliban from Kabul in 2016, according to a Taliban official.
Experts in Pakistan say Prime Minister Imran Khan has played an active role in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September for the resumption of dialogue between the Taliban and the U.S.
Pakistan's former ambassador to the UAE Asif Khan Durrani told Xinhua on Monday that the presence of Khalilzad and Taliban delegation in Islamabad should break the logjam and, hopefully, encourage both sides to pick up the threads from where they had left.
Retired brigadier of the Pakistani army Muhammad Ishaq Khattak said Pakistan still holds sway and stakes in Afghanistan's peace process.
"Pakistan, having shown eagerness and played a role in recent talks, is a major stake holder also. Therefore, the Taliban's visit to Pakistan carries significant importance," Khattak told Xinhua.
Afghanistan will have a new government following the official announcement of the results later this month of the country's presidential election held on Sept. 28.
Peace with the Taliban will remain a major challenge for the new government and Pakistan's role is considered very crucial in the Afghan reconciliation by Afghanistan and all major stakeholders.
A Pakistani foreign ministry official told Xinhua that "Whomsoever the Afghans will choose, Pakistan is ready to work with that government."
Pakistan and Afghanistan used to be involved in a blame game that affects mutual trust and bilateral cooperation, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's recent visit to Pakistan in June has played a key role in trust building.
The two countries now have a good basis for cooperation in a bilateral mechanism known as the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), and they need to build up on that.