ISLAMABAD   -   The United States has asked Pakistan to help Washington in clinching a ‘final deal’ with the Afghan Taliban as the US and Taliban remain in contact for peace.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that the US wanted Pakistan to play a ‘more active’ role for peace in Afghanistan.

“They have acknowledged our efforts so far and want some final push to clinch a deal. The US is ready to help Afghan Taliban get a share in power after the elections (in Afghanistan),” said one official.

He said Pakistan had assured all support for peace in Afghanistan. “This (peace) is in our own interest. We have been behind the US-Taliban talks,” the official added.

Another official said Pakistan believed a share in power will placate the Taliban and ensure a long-lasting peace in the war-torn country. “We have to streamline them (the Taliban). This is what we have told the US. They (the US) agree in principle,” he maintained.

Afghanistan presidential elections have been postponed twice this year. September 28 has been set as the new date for polls. Provincial council elections in all 34 Afghan provinces would be held on the same date.

The Independent Election Commission said recent amendments to election laws and the pending resolution of “numerous problems and challenges” facing the voting system prompted it to push back the polls.

The presidential election originally was scheduled for April 20, then was delayed to July 20 mainly because of security concerns and widespread scepticism about IEC’s ability to organize a fair ballot in the wake of last October’s controversial Afghan parliamentary polls.

Meanwhile, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad - seeking a peace deal with the Taliban to end nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan - has returned to Kabul ahead of a new round of talks.

Khalilzad, the chief negotiator with the Taliban, has held several rounds of peace talks with the militant group in Qatar. But the Western-backed government in Kabul has complained it is being left out of the negotiations, with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with what they consider ‘a US puppet.’

Khalilzad appears to have hit the ground trying to smooth those complaints and facilitate a peace process that brings all Afghan parties together in inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations. “We discussed the urgency of making progress on intra-Afghan dialogue,” Khalilzad tweeted on April 1.

The growing rift between Kabul and Washington over the talks with the Taliban erupted in public view on March 14, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national-security adviser harshly criticised Khalilzad – an Afghan-born US diplomat.

Khalilzad has recognised Pakistan’s neutrality in the Afghan peace process and urged all Afghans to approach the forthcoming elections and the ongoing talks with the Taliban with equal seriousness.

“Enter negotiations as if there were no elections, united as a country, and do elections as if there were no negotiations,” he wrote in a tweet.

In this trip, Khalilzad is travelling to Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan and Qatar from March 25 to April 10.

Pak-US relations had taken a turn for the worse in recent years, with the US announcing a $300 million cut in military aid to Pakistan in 2018. US President Donald Trump attacked Pakistan on Twitter in November, saying it was not doing enough to stop terrorism.

However, recently, tension between the US and Pakistan had thawed with Trump praising Prime Minister Imran Khan’s role in facilitating the Afghan peace process.

Last month, Trump had said the US has developed a ‘much better’ relationship recently with Pakistan and had added that the US may set up some meetings with Pakistan.