ISLAMABAD   -   Pakistan and the United States yesterday held talks on the Afghanistan issue as US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met Pakistan’s civil and military leaders here.

The visiting US envoy met Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and also held delegation-level talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua.

In the meeting with General Bajwa at General Headquarters the “overall regional security situation with particular reference to the ongoing Afghan reconciliation process was discussed.”

The visiting dignitary appreciated Pakistan’s efforts towards peace process, said a statement issued by the ISPR.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Qureshi, during his meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, said Pakistan wanted peace and stability in Afghanistan, which will directly benefit Pakistan's own vision for economic and human development.

Qureshi appreciated his efforts, reiterated Pakistan's commitment to the Afghan peace process. He said intra-Afghan dialogue was a vital component of the reconciliation process.

Khalilzad briefed the Foreign Minister on the outcome of Doha talks and his recent engagements in the region, said a foreign ministry statement. He also shared updates on his meetings in Afghanistan and the dynamics of the intra-Afghan dialogue.

This week, Zalmay Khalilzad had stressed the need for timely and credible presidential elections in Afghanistan. He said US did not expect the elections to be delayed, which is set to be held on September 28.

Khalilzad said the Taliban and the Afghan government may not reach peace accord before presidential elections but it will be better if an agreement was sealed with the Taliban before the elections.

The US is ready to help Afghan Taliban get a share in power after the elections. Afghanistan presidential elections have been postponed twice this year.

Prior to his meetings with General Bajwa and FM Qureshi, Ambassador Khalilzad had delegation-level talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua.

Ambassador Khalilzad was accompanied by an interagency delegation, while Foreign Secretary Janjua was assisted by senior officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence.

The foreign secretary also briefed him about telephonic conversation between Foreign Minister Qureshi and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

She informed about their mutual interest in further progress on Afghanistan peace efforts and that they agreed to remain engaged to pursue the reconciliation process.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that the US and Pakistan were optimistic to continue cooperation to resolve the Afghanistan issue.

 

“The meetings have been very positive and both sides have agreed to cooperate more for regional peace,” said one official.

Another official said the two sides believed the bilateral ties also needed to be improved and misunderstandings “must be removed” to revive the relationship to a level where it used to be in the past.

Last month, Prime Minister Khan proposed an interim setup in Afghanistan as a possible solution to an “impasse” in the ongoing peace process.  Khan said the Afghan government was creating an obstruction on the way of peace talks with the Taliban. The premier also said he had canceled a scheduled meeting with Taliban leaders because of objections by the Afghan government.

The Afghan government has been blaming Pakistan for harbouring key Taliban leaders on its soil and providing them with sanctuaries to stage war against Afghan forces and their foreign counterparts. However, Pakistan has often rejected the allegations and has claimed it was extending support to the Afghan peace process.

The National Unity Government was established based on an agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in September 2014 after controversial elections. The agreement on the NUG was brokered by former US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said PM Khan’s comments on Afghanistan had been reported out of context in the media, leading to ‘unwarranted reaction’ from various quarters. A foreign office spokesperson said in his comments the PM had referred to Pakistan’s model where elections are held under an interim government. The comments should not be misinterpreted to imply interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

“Pakistan has no other interest in Afghanistan but to promote peace through an ‘Afghan owned’ and ‘Afghan led’ political process. PM of Pakistan has taken personal interest in facilitating the ongoing political reconciliation process and the same must not be misconstrued to undermine the sincere efforts of Pakistan or to create misunderstandings at this crucial stage of the process,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians, security forces, insurgents and more than 2,400 American soldiers, according to an American University study released recently.

The longest war effort in US history has also cost Washington nearly one trillion dollars and all the parties central to the war are now dropping hints to end the conflict.