ISLAMABAD - The United States yesterday said it was ‘encouraged’ by Pakistan’s role for peace and reconciliation in war-torn Afghanistan.

“The United States continued to be encouraged by the role Pakistan has played to advance the peace process in Afghanistan,” said a US embassy statement issued at the conclusion of a two-day visit by Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad to Pakistan.

The embassy said that the two sides reviewed developments in the Afghan peace process. “Ambassador Khalilzad briefed Pakistani officials on the substantial progress made in talks over the last month and planned next steps,” it said. “Ambassador Khalilzad and Pakistani officials also discussed the benefit of improved Pakistan-Afghanistan relations in reaching, implementing, and sustaining a durable peace.”

Khalilzad met Prime Minister Imran Khan, Additional Secretary Foreign Affairs Aftab Khokher and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Both the countries will benefit from the increased regional connectivity, cooperation and integration that peace in Afghanistan offers. The United States stands ready to assist,” the statement said. Khalilzad was in Islamabad to kick off a two-week peace mission that will take him to Afghanistan, Belgium, Germany, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in efforts to end the long-running Afghan war.

In Kabul, the US State Department said Mr Khalilzad would consult with the Afghan government and other Afghans. He is also expected to continue talks with the Taliban in Doha, where the group maintains a political office. At his other stops, Khalilzad will work to build international support for the Afghan peace process.

The talks so far have focused on a timetable for US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as Taliban guarantees that they won’t harbour terrorist groups or allow Afghanistan to be used as a staging ground for global terror attacks.

Khalilzad took to Twitter to say he believed the peace process was progressing, even though the last round of talks ended with the two sides at apparent loggerheads over when the US might pull its troops from Afghanistan.

“We’ve made substantial progress over the last month. On this trip, I want to take that momentum and accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess,” he wrote.

Last month, Pakistan offered to mediate between the US and Iran amid growing tensions between the two countries.

Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said Pakistan always supported dialogue and desired that all issues should be settled peacefully and through engagement by all sides.  “If required, Pakistan is ready to play a constructive and positive role in this regard,” he added.

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Islamabad for talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

“We believe the situation in the region is serious and needs to be addressed through dialogue by all parties. We expect all sides to show restraint, as any miscalculated move, can transmute into a large-scale conflict,” Faisal said.

He added: “Our position is very clear in this regard. Pakistan supports dialogue in all situations. If there is any problem, it should be resolved through peaceful dialogue and negotiations.”

The 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, tensions between the US and Pakistan have thawed with Trump praising Prime Minister Imran Khan’s role in facilitating the Afghan peace process.

Last month, Trump said that the US had developed a ‘much better’ relationship recently with Pakistan and had added that the US may set up some meetings with Pakistan. Washington also believes Islamabad’s role is ‘crucial’ in resolving the Afghanistan issue.

The recent meeting between PM Imran Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Saudi Arabia, was also appreciated by Washington.

Islamabad and Kabul plan more meetings to improve the confidence level and remove misunderstandings.