US envoy, Taliban leadership reportedly met in Pakistan for the first time since talks were scuttled

By SUSANNAH GEORGE | The Washington Post | Published: October 4, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan has met with Taliban leadership for the first time since peace talks between the two sides were declared "dead" by President Donald Trump last month, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

A Pakistani foreign ministry official said the meeting occurred Thursday and lasted more than an hour. A second source in Kabul with knowledge of the meeting confirmed it occurred. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the subject with the media.

The State Department did not comment on reports of the meeting with the Taliban specifically but said U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad traveled to Islamabad to meet with Pakistani officials and the trip did "not represent a re-start of the Afghan Peace Process," according to a statement released to the press.

The Taliban visit to Pakistan follows similar official visits to Russia, China and Iran.

Before talks were called off last month, they were aimed at reaching a peace deal that would allow the United States to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge from Taliban leadership to cut ties with al-Qaida and support counterterrorism efforts. Khalilzad's team and Taliban leadership had negotiated for more than 10 months and Khalilzad had said in early September that a deal was reached "in principal."

The announcement of a peace deal appeared to be imminent until Trump abruptly scuttled talks on Sept. 7. Trump said the decision was made after a Taliban attack that resulted in the death of an American service member on Sept. 5.

But in the days that followed officials in Kabul and Washington cautioned that talks were likely on hold rather than entirely scrapped. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to signal as much when he told Fox News in a Sept 8 interview that the negotiations were off "for the time being."

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan earlier this week, and on Wednesday Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announced a delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would also travel to Pakistan. Baradar is a co-founder of the Taliban movement and was a lead negotiator throughout talks with Khalilzad.

Video released by Pakistan's foreign ministry showed Taliban leaders embracing Pakistani foreign ministry officials as they arrived in Islamabad for meetings. Pakistan has repeatedly urged both sides to resume peace talks and the Taliban have said they remain open to talks with the United States.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman said the "agenda for discussions" included "issues of restoration of peace and security in the region" according to a statement released to media Wednesday.

A state department spokesperson on Wednesday said Khalilzad was in Pakistan "for consultations with authorities in Pakistan" that follow on discussions held between Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan at the U.N. General Assembly last week. The spokesperson was not authorized to discuss the trip on the record and released the statement on condition of anonymity.

After meeting with Taliban leadership Thursday, Pakistan's foreign ministry said Islamabad and the Taliban "agreed on the need for . . . resumption of the peace process."

It is "time to make all possible efforts for an early, peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan," the foreign ministry said in a statement. The statement also warned that "broad regional and international consensus for achieving peace in Afghanistan . . . provided an unprecedented opportunity that must not be lost."

The Washington Post's Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul contributed to this report.

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