ISLAMABAD - In a major breakthrough for peace and a huge diplomatic victory for Pakistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi yesterday announced that the Afghanistan Taliban were willing to shun violence as US-Taliban peace talks entered the final phase.

In a video message, the FM said that the Afghan Taliban – who are in talks with the US - had expressed willingness for reduction in violence. “This is a step toward peace agreement in Afghanistan,” he added – indicating a major diplomatic victory for Pakistan.

The Foreign Minister said that talks between the US and the Taliban had been continuing for some time and Pakistan – having arranged the talks for the sake of peace - desired progress in the talks. He reiterated that Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region needed peace and stability to progress.

Last month, Pakistan and the US had shown satisfaction with the recent talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

United States top negotiator for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad – who is expected to visit Islamabad soon – had met Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa separately during his one-day visit to the federal capital.

“During the meeting, both the leaders discussed Afghan peace process and regional security. They also deliberated on overall law and order situation,” a foreign ministry statement had said.

Recently, the US and Taliban officials announced a resumption of official negotiations for the first time since President Donald Trump abruptly halted talks three months ago to end the 18-year war.

Zalmay Khalilzad had met Taliban officials on December 7 in Qatar, the scene of previous negotiations, and continued the talks on December 8.

The restart follows Trump’s surprise Thanksgiving visit to see US troops in Afghanistan on November 28, when he expressed hope that “the Taliban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them.”

Trump, the third US commander in chief to preside over America’s longest war since a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban leadership following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, has expressed a desire to withdraw the estimated 12,000 US troops from Afghanistan.

As the peace deal between the US and the Taliban becomes obvious, the US has started getting warmer to Pakistan. The Donald Trump administration has approved a resumption of Pakistan’s participation in a coveted US military training and educational program more than a year after it was suspended.

The decision to resume Islamabad’s participation in the International Military Education and Training Program, or IMET - for more than a decade a pillar of US-Pakistani military ties - underscores warming relations that have followed meetings this year between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan. Washington also has credited Islamabad with helping to facilitate negotiations on a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Qureshi said that Pakistan had considerably fulfilled its responsibility regarding the Afghan peace process. He said: “We desire that the entire region moves towards peace, which benefits both Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

“The good thing for Pakistan is that the responsibility it took for promoting the (Afghan) reconciliation has effectively been discharged,” the FM noted, adding Pakistan hoped the effort would lead to peace so it would benefit the people in both neighboring countries. 

The foreign minister, who is currently visiting Washington, made the revelation ahead of his meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor Robert O’ Brien.

The announcement came amid media reports Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhund has approved a week-long cease-fire with US-led foreign forces to end the deadlock in signing a foreign troop withdrawal agreement US and Taliban interlocutors have negotiated in their yearlong talks, held mostly in Qatar.

Zalmay Khalilzad has been demanding the Taliban agree to a brief cessation in hostilities before the two adversaries in the 18-year-old Afghan war could sign the deal.

Taliban negotiators in Doha were expected to share their cease-fire decision with Khalilzad. The US envoy is said to be staying in the Qatari capital to hear from the insurgents whether they were ready to accept his demand, though US officials have not commented on his presence in the Gulf nation.

Khalilzad had paused the dialogue process last month after insurgents staged a major attack on the largest US military base of Bagram in Afghanistan that killed several Afghan civilians and injured scores of others.

The proposed agreement, if signed, would require the Taliban to immediately enter into negotiations with Afghan stakeholders to discuss a nationwide cease-fire and a power-sharing understanding to bring an end to decades of deadly hostilities in the country.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells is expected to visit Islamabad on January 19 for talks. The foreign ministry said dates were being finalised for Khalilzad’s visit too.

Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said that Islamabad was expecting Alice Wells for talks on all issues including Afghanistan and the Middle East tension.