ISLAMABAD -  Pakistan is set to engage Afghan Taliban in more talks in a bid to resolve the Afghanistan issue through dialogue, The Nation learnt.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry said that the recent meeting with the Afghan Taliban delegation was ‘positive’ which rekindled the hope for a dialogue process for peace in the neighbouring country.

An official, privy to the talks with the Taliban leaders, told The Nation that the United States was also briefed on the meeting.

“While the US is not pinning too much hope on such talks, they are supporting the process. They have given us (Pakistan) a go-ahead for taking the process further,” he said.

Another official said the Taliban wanted their share in power and withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. “The US obviously wants to withdraw sooner or later but they have not taken this demand seriously so far (to give a timeframe),” he said, citing contacts with Washington.

Pakistan has not yet officially confirmed the visit of the Taliban delegation to Islamabad. Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said he had “no information” about the visit. He, however, said the only viable solution to the Afghan conflict lied in a politically negotiated, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process.

“The military approach has been tried for over 16 years and has failed to yield the desired results. It has only increased the sufferings of the Afghan people and enhanced their resentment against the foreign forces on their land. The peace deal signed between the Afghan-government and Hizb-e-Islami can serve as a model for future talks with other insurgent groups including the Taliban,” he said.

Afghan Taliban confirmed the Islamabad visit saying they had submitted a report to their top leadership after interactions with the Pakistani officials and representatives from other nations, including China and Qatar, on finding a solution to the Afghan war.

In a Pashto-language statement circulated to the media, the Taliban said that a five-member delegation from the Taliban’s Qatar-based Political Office recently travelled to Islamabad and held talks with the officials.

The visit, the statement said, was undertaken after Pakistan offered to help find a political solution to the Afghan conflict and exchange views with the Taliban.

The Taliban said both the sides shared and listened to each other’s views on how to promote a peaceful settlement to the war.

Reports said the Taliban delegation was comprised of Jan Mohammed Madani, Maulvi Shahabud Din Dilawar, Syed Rasool Haleem, Mohammed Suhail Shaheen and Qari Deen Mohammed.

The Taliban visit comes after Pakistan and the US agreed on a ‘carrot and stick’ policy to resolve the Afghanistan issue this month. The uneasy allies returned to the talks’ table after tension rose to an unprecedented level, threatening to break the alliance altogether.

During the talks, the US pressed Pakistan to ‘eliminate’ the Haqqani network that according to Washington was the main hurdle in establishing peace in Afghanistan.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ambassador Alice Wells flew to Islamabad to hold talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua. Wells – during her two-day visit –urged Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory. 

According to a US embassy statement, she underlined that the “US seeks to move toward a new relationship with Pakistan, based on our mutual interest in realizing a stable and prosperous region.”

The two countries were at loggerheads after President Donald Trump’s controversial tweet this month in which he announced to suspend aid to Pakistan for allegedly deceiving the US in the war on terror. Pakistan rejected US allegations that it was not taking action against all the terror networks and also questioned Trump’s claim of giving $33 billion to Pakistan as security assistance. Islamabad said it had fought the anti-terror war largely from its own resources for the sake of the country’s and global peace.

As tension escalated, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan said Pak-US intelligence sharing and defense cooperation had been suspended. The US denied the claim. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif had said Pak-US alliance was ‘over’ after the US ‘betrayal.’ Before Wells visit on January 15-16, Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa received a telephone call from US Central Command chief Gen Joseph Votel where Bajwa made it clear that Pakistan will not seek resumption of US security aid.

The army chief, however, assured Gen Votel that Pakistan will keep supporting all initiatives for peace in Afghanistan despite the tendency to “scapegoat” Pakistan, as peace in Afghanistan was the only way to move towards enduring peace and stability in the region.

International affairs expert Dr AZ Hilali said that peace in Afghanistan was imperative for regional stability. “We (Pakistan) believe in that but (Afghanistan President) Ashraf Ghani is taking lessons from India,” he said.

Hilali said Afghanistan must know how Pakistan had been with them through thick and thin. “Ghani was pro-Pakistan and we need to see how he changed his mind. We should stop him from becoming their (India’s) man. Dialogue is the only way out for Afghanistan peace,” he remarked.