By Aamir Latif
The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan has extended his stay in Pakistan as he is still expecting a meeting with Afghan Taliban representatives to break the deadlock that has hit the Afghan peace process, officials said on Saturday.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been in Islamabad for the last three days, is awaiting the outcome of Pakistan's efforts to convince the militant militia to meet with him in an attempt to break a stalemate that has hit the fragile peace process following Washington’s desire to include Kabul in the process.
"He has extended his stay in Islamabad as we are still hopeful that we will soon be able to arrange a meeting between him and the Taliban representatives," a senior Foreign Ministry official told Anadolu Agency, asking not to be named due to restrictions on speaking with the media.
Richard Snelsire, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, confirmed to Anadolu Agency that Khalilzad is still in Islamabad, but could not say how much longer he would stay or whether he would meet with the Taliban.
The Taliban, however, are still reluctant to meet U.S. officials in Pakistan to avoid being pressured into accepting the Afghan government in the peace process aimed at ending the 17-year war, background interviews with intelligence and government officials suggested.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has already rejected Washington's demand, accusing it of departing from the agenda and "unilaterally adding new subjects."
Influence with Taliban
Khalilzad, who has visited Islamabad five time in the last few months, met with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and powerful Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa during his current trip to discuss the progress made in the sluggish process, but is still awaiting an outcome of Islamabad’s efforts to convince the Taliban to meet.
Mullah Abbas, a senior Taliban leader and former health minister in the Taliban government, is currently in Pakistan and engaged in talks with Pakistani officials, according to Mujahid.
Islamabad is believed to have a degree of influence over the Taliban as their families have long been residing in Pakistan. They also depend on Pakistan for medical treatment.
Last December, Pakistan confirmed it had arranged rare direct talks between Washington and the Taliban, paving the way for a negotiated settlement of the conflict that has entered its 18th year.
In 2015 Pakistan facilitated the landmark first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad, but the process broke down after Taliban announced the death of their longtime leader Mullah Omer, triggering a bitter power struggle within the militia.
Chances for resumption of the stalled process dimmed further following the death of Omer’s successor, Mullah Mansur, in a U.S. drone strike in 2016 on Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
Since then, several attempts to resume the stalled peace process have been made by a four-nation group made up of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S., and China.