ISLAMABAD - Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday that their negotiation team will meet American special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on February 18.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said by the formal invitation of the government of Pakistan another meeting is scheduled to take place between the negotiation teams of the Taliban and United States on February 18 in Islamabad where the negotiation team of the Taliban will also meet with Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold comprehensive discussions about Pak-Afghan relations and issues pertaining to Afghan refugees and Afghan businessmen.

“As the negotiations process continues to take place between the Islamic Emirate and United States and meetings have already been held in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the next round will resume on February 25 2019 in the Qatari capital of Doha as per agreement reached during the previous meeting,” he said in a statement.

He said Taliban will hold a previously unexpected round of talks with the United States in Pakistan on coming Monday, ahead of a scheduled round of talks in the Middle eastern state of Qatar a week later. The Qatar talks will also include a collection of prominent Afghan figures, many of whom attended a similar gathering in the Russian capital earlier this month.

In the statement issued Wednesday, there was no immediate explanation for the previously unscheduled talks but Pakistan has been under considerable pressure to use its influence over the Taliban to press the insurgents into direct talks with Afghanistan’s government.

Until now, the Taliban have refused to talk directly to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government but pressure is mounting to bring them into an expanding circle of participants.

According to the statement by Zabihullah Mujahid, afghan Taliban are coming to Islamabad on the “formal invitation” of the government of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had publicly taken credit for facilitating the peace talks and assured the nation that Pakistan “will do everything within its power” to further the Afghan peace process. “Pakistan has helped in the dialogue between Taliban and the US in Abu Dhabi. Let us pray that this leads to peace and ends almost three decades of suffering of the brave Afghan people,” Khan said.

No Decision Yet

On pullout: Nato

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday the organization’s role in Afghanistan is about providing conditions for a political and peaceful solution of the conflict.

Addressing journalists before the start of the defence ministers meeting in Brussels, Stoltenberg said: “The aim is of course not to be in Afghanistan forever, the aim is to be in Afghanistan to fight terrorism and to train, assist and advise Afghan National Army, security forces so they can stabilize their own country.”

He also said no decision has been taken about any withdrawal of troops, “but we strongly support the efforts to reach a political peaceful settlement and therefore we are in close contact with the US special envoy Ambassador (Zalmay) Khalilzad”.

Stoltenberg said he has briefed NATO allies three times over the recent weeks on efforts to reach an agreement with the Taliban. “I would also like to commend President (Ashraf) Ghani for his leadership and initiative he took last year with the ceasefire and the peace process he initiated last year.

“It’s important that we have, as part of the peace process, an Afghan reconciliation process and of course the Afghan government has to be part of that.

“NATO allies went in together in Afghanistan, we will make decision on our future posture in Afghanistan together based on conditions determined together with the Afghans,” he said.

In conclusion, Stoltenberg said: “… we support the peace efforts and we will of course do whatever we can to fully support the implementation of a peace deal if that’s reached.”