ISLAMABAD               -               Pakistan on Tuesday reaffirmed support to United States peace efforts in Afghanistan as US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Resolute Support Mission Commander General Austin Scott Miller met Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The top US officials were in Islamabad for a day-long visit. “In a meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Ambassador Khalilzad and General Miller discussed the United States’ “ongoing efforts for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” said a US embassy statement.

It added: “Pakistan’s military leaders reaffirmed their support for US efforts and renewed their commitment to act to advance a political settlement to the conflict.”

Earlier, Khalilzad visited Qatar to discuss with the Taliban the ‘current challenges’ in implementing a peace deal signed by the United States and the militant group in late February, the State Department said. The announcement came after an initial prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the Afghan government that was hailed by Khalilzad as an “important step” toward peace.

The ambassador, who negotiated the US-Taliban deal, had departed on April 12 for talks with Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the militants have a political office, a statement said.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Taliban on April 12 released 20 Afghan prisoners in the southern province of Kandahar. The move came after the Afghan government released 100 Taliban prisoners, bringing the total number of Taliban inmates freed since April 8 to 300.

Khalilzad had on April 13 urged both sides to “accelerate efforts to meet targets specified in the U.S.-Taliban agreement as soon as possible,” adding that the exchange was more important than ever with prison populations threatened by an outbreak of coronavirus.

The pact signed by the US and the Taliban in Doha on February 29 calls for the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks aimed at ending the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan. The Taliban had vowed to release some 1,000 Afghan government troops and civilian workers it is holding. But the Taliban last week recalled a three-member team it had sent to Kabul to try to finalize the swap originally set to happen by March 10.

The militants blamed the administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for delaying the exchange “under one pretext or another,” while Kabul called on the Taliban not to “sabotage the process by making excuses.”