ISLAMABAD    -   Pakistan is leading the Afghan peace process as Afghan Taliban met the Pakistani civil and military leadership here amid the group’s stalled dialogue with the United States.

The two sides agreed that peace was a mutual goal and talks were the only way to normalise situation in the war-torn Afghanistan.

The delegation of the Taliban Political Commission in Doha - led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - held an important meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of the negotiations to end the persisting deadlock with the US regarding Afghan peace process.

Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor among other senior officials were also present in the meeting.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban held key talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan.

A senior government official said the talks were ‘positive’ and there would be further meetings in the days to come. “The peace process will take time but we are more hopeful with today’s (October 3) meetings,” said a close aide of Prime Minister Khan.

At the formal talks, Qureshi led the Pakistani side and affirmed that Pakistan would continue its efforts to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process.

The Taliban team is also likely to meet US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who is already in Islamabad. Options are being considered to engage Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the talks.

Qureshi told journalists that Pakistan and Afghanistan enjoyed ‘brotherly bilateral’ relations. “The reconciliation process is a shared responsibility for achieving peace in Afghanistan. For 40 years of instability in Afghanistan, we have been facing equal consequences. It is a sign of happiness that the international community has endorsed Pakistan’s stance on the situation in Afghanistan. For peace and stability of the entire region, achieving peace in Afghanistan is critical,” he said.

The FM said the Taliban delegation had appreciated Pakistan’s role as they genuinely believe that the war was not a solution to any of the problems. “Only dialogue is the appropriate and sole solution to the crisis.”

Both sides expressed the need of urgent restoration of halted peace talks. Besides, the meeting has discussed the entire regional peace and security situation.

Importantly, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has mentioned that the US leadership appreciates Pakistan’s efforts for peace in Afghanistan. He thanked Qureshi for making possible the direct talks between the US and the Taliban leadership.

A foreign ministry statement said the delegation of the Taliban Political Commission in Doha called on Foreign Minister Qureshi. “The delegation was led by the head of TPC Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar and included senior members of the Commission. This is first-ever visit of a Taliban delegation to Pakistan since the establishment of the TPC,” it said.

The FM noted that while the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a shared history, geography and culture, Islam remained the strongest bond between the two countries.

He added the people of both countries had also suffered tremendously due to 40 years long conflict and instability in Afghanistan. It was time to make all possible efforts for an early, peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Qureshi said Pakistan would continue to support all efforts to achieve permanent peace in Afghanistan which was essential for Pakistan’s own socio-economic development and progress.

He said Pakistan had wholeheartedly supported Afghanistan in its difficult times during the past four decades. “In line with the teachings of Islam and as part of its moral obligation as a friendly neighbour, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan brothers and sisters during this period. All these years Pakistan has also kept reminding the world not to overlook the hardcore political, economic, socio-cultural and ethnic ground realities in Afghanistan and its immediate neighbourhood,” he said.

Qureshi said Pakistan had maintained for several years that there was no military solution to the complex situation in Afghanistan.

An inclusive peace and reconciliation process, involving all sections of the Afghan society, was the only, practical way forward, he added.

The FM noted that the direct Taliban-US talks since last year, strongly and sincerely supported by Pakistan, had now laid a firm ground for achieving a sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan.

“A pacific settlement of the conflict would lead to a significant reduction of violence, end of bloodshed and long-term peace, stability and prosperity for future generations of Afghanistan,” he said.

Appreciating Taliban’s serious engagement in the peace process, he underscored the need to take these efforts to their logical conclusion.

He noted that the existing, broad regional and international consensus for achieving peace in Afghanistan at the earliest provided an unprecedented opportunity that must not be lost. “It is up to the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to grasp this opportunity,” he said, adding the hope that the currently paused peace process would be restarted at an early date.

Thanking Pakistan for the hospitality, the TPC delegation appreciated Pakistan’s support for peace in Afghanistan. “Both the sides agreed on the need for earliest resumption of the peace process,” said the foreign ministry statement.

Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s commitment and continued strong support for all efforts in this regard.

It was emphasized that reduction of violence by all parties to the conflict was necessary to provide an enabling environment for resumption of the peace process at an early date.