ISLAMABAD    -    Pakistan brought the United States and Afghan Taliban back to the talks’ table weeks after President Donald Trump called off the dialogue.

A visiting Afghan Taliban delegation met US special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in an ‘official meeting’ here yesterday which may translate into resumption of a formal dialogue process soon, sources said.

“The meeting was not official but definitely all issues were discussed. It was arranged by Pakistan obviously,” one source told The Nation.

Another source said the US urged the Taliban to announce ceasefire to pave way for a formal dialogue which broke last month.

“The hopes (for the resumption of the dialogue) have been revived with the help of Pakistan. The US acknowledges Pakistan’s efforts,” he added.

President Trump had halted the talks aimed at a plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, following the death of a US soldier and 11 others in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.

US peace talks with the Taliban are now “dead,” Trump declared, one day after he abruptly canceled a secret meeting he had arranged with Taliban and Afghan leaders aimed at ending America’s longest war.

A State Department representative said Khalilzad had spent several days in Islamabad this week for consultations with authorities in Pakistan, but his meetings in Islamabad did not represent a restart of the Afghan peace process.

“The Taliban officials held a meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad ... all I can tell you is that Pakistan played a big role in it to convince them how important it was for the peace process,” a senior Pakistan official told Reuters, but declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak publicly.

The US embassy in Islamabad and the State Department in Washington declined to comment on whether there had been a meeting between the Taliban and Khalilzad.

A State Department representative said Khalilzad had spent several days in Islamabad this week for consultations with authorities in Pakistan, but his meetings in Islamabad did not represent a restart of the Afghan peace process.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, did not confirm or deny that Taliban had met Khalilzad, adding that the Taliban delegation was still in Islamabad for meetings.

The US had earlier told the Afghan government that Khalilzad’s possible meeting with the Afghan officials would discuss the 2016 kidnapping of two university professors, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, in Kabul by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani group.

The Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, does not want the peace process to resume unless it is led by Afghans. Ghani has complained bitterly about the Taliban shutting his administration out of the previous talks.

The Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group’s founders, met Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in Islamabad on October 3 and both sides called for a resumption of the talks as soon as possible.

Video of Pakistan’s warm welcome for the Taliban this week circulated on media sites, and Afghans bristled on social media at images of Taliban and Pakistan officials exchanging hugs and smiles.

Qureshi told journalists after the meeting that Pakistan and Afghanistan enjoyed ‘brotherly bilateral’ relations and the reconciliation process was a shared responsibility for achieving peace in Afghanistan.

“For 40 years of instability in Afghanistan, we have been facing equal consequences. It is a sign of happiness that the international community has endorsed Pakistan’s stance on the situation in Afghanistan. For peace and stability of the entire region, achieving peace in Afghanistan is critical,” he said.

The FM said Taliban delegation had appreciated Pakistan’s role as they genuinely believe that the war was not a solution to any of the problems. “Only dialogue is the appropriate and sole solution to the crisis.”

A foreign ministry statement said that the delegation of the Taliban Political Commission in Doha had met Foreign Minister Qureshi. “The delegation was led by the head of TPC Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar and included senior members of the Commission. This is first ever visit of a Taliban delegation to Pakistan since the establishment of the TPC,” it said.

Qureshi said Pakistan would continue to support all efforts to achieve permanent peace in Afghanistan which was essential for Pakistan’s own socio-economic development and progress.

He noted that the direct Taliban-US talks since last year, strongly and sincerely supported by Pakistan, had now laid a firm ground for achieving a sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan.