ISLAMABAD - The United States has acknowledged Pakistan’s role to bring the US and Afghan Taliban back on the talks table, officials said. Senior government officials told The Nation that the US had appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and hoped the talks will be fruitful.

“Washington has accepted us (Pakistan) as a key player in the region. They believe peace in Afghanistan is not possible without our help,” said one official.

He said Pakistan had assured the US of every support for peace in the region and urged the superpower not to doubt Pakistan’s role in the fight against terror.

Another official said both the US and Afghan Taliban wanted result oriented talks and Islamabad fully backed this mission. “We are in fact supporting Afghanistan by arranging these talks. We want peace in the region,” he said. US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad – who flew to Kabul this week – will hold talks with the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

The US State Department said the two sides will discuss steps that could lead to a ceasefire and a settlement to the war. “Ambassador Khalilzad will rejoin talks with the Taliban to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire,” the State Department said.

Washington accepts Islamabad as key player in region

In September, the US and the Taliban had appeared on the verge of signing a deal that would have seen Washington begin pulling thousands of troops out of Afghanistan in return for promises to keep out foreign armed groups. It was also expected to pave the way towards direct talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul and, ultimately, a possible peace agreement after more than 18 years of war.

But that same month, US President Donald Trump abruptly called the year-long effort ‘dead’ and withdrew an invitation to the Taliban to meet in the US after the killing of an American soldier.

However, during a surprise visit to an American military base in Afghanistan last week, Trump said the Taliban “want to make a deal.” But the Taliban later said it was “way too early” to speak of resuming direct talks with Washington.

“We will not announce any ceasefire before a deal with the US, and secondly we will not agree to hold any meetings with the Afghan government before that,” a senior Taliban official had said.

The Taliban have described the Afghan government as illegitimate and steadfastly refused to a ceasefire before reaching a deal with the US, but even during the stall in talks, Khalilzad has seen signs that the Taliban is ready to cooperate. He recently helped arrange a captive swap in which the Taliban released two academics, from the US and Australia, whom they had held hostage for three years.

And in an indirect dovetailing of interests that was noted favourably by Khalilzad, both US and Afghan forces as well as the Taliban have been battling fighters from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or the ISIL.

Yesterday, Pakistan welcomed the announcement regarding resumption of US-Taliban talks.

In a statement, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said Pakistan hopes that it will lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and ultimately to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. He said Pakistan encourages all parties to the conflict to engage constructively as a shared responsibility. Dr Faisal said Pakistan has always maintained that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

He said an inclusive peace and reconciliation process, involving all segments of the Afghan society is the only practical way forward.