ISLAMABAD - Talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States are unlikely today (February 18) amid reservations by the Afghan government and the denials by the US.

The talks were scheduled in Islamabad after the Afghan Taliban agreed for it but Kabul launched protest terming the proposed dialogue in Islamabad as violation of its sovereignty.

The US claimed they had not been formally invited for the talks while other reports said the Taliban might interact with the visiting Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Afghanistan has expressed concerns to the UN Security Council against the planned visit by Taliban negotiators to Pakistan, asserting that the group’s members travelling to Islamabad were under UN sanctions and that Kabul should have been consulted prior to any such meeting.

Taliban negotiators on February 14 had announced they will meet US representatives in Pakistan on February 18 as part of the ongoing Afghan peace talks and that they will also meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold ‘comprehensive discussions about Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.’ In a letter to the Security Council, the Afghan UN mission wrote that the Taliban-Pakistan “constitutes a violation of the national sovereignty of Afghanistan.”

“These engagements, which are taking place under the pretext of support for peace efforts in Afghanistan, are void of any degree of coordination and consultation with the government of Afghanistan,” it said.

The letter said that an invitation by Prime Minister Khan for a Taliban delegation to travel to Pakistan for talks “amounts to the official recognition and legitimization of an armed-group that poses a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan, and whose members are sanctioned by provisions of the UN Security Council’s 1988 Committee’s Sanctions Regime.”

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation, that the talks were unlikely on February 18 but could be held on a later date. “There was never a meeting (of the Afghan Taliban) planned with the Saudi Crown Prince. The talks would have been only between the US and the Taliban,” one official said.

Another official said the US and Afghanistan were taken into confidence on the talks in Islamabad. “We fail to understand the Afghanistan protest. We are only trying to help,” he added.

Recently, Pakistan has arranged ‘result-oriented’ US-Afghan Taliban dialogue in Qatar. The Afghan Taliban, however, refused to meet the representatives of the Afghan government.

Pakistan and the US are also hoping to finalize the settlement of the Afghanistan issue when their top leaders, Imran Khan and Donald Trump, possibly meet in the near future.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Islamabad’s support in securing a “negotiated settlement” to the war in Afghanistan.

This came as Washington stepped up efforts to hold peace talks with the Taliban, more than 17 years after the invasion of Afghanistan. In his letter, Trump said a settlement is “his most important regional priority”, the Pakistani foreign ministry stated. “In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation”, it added.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been pressing the Taliban to engage Afghan government in the talks. In the recent days, however, Pakistan and Afghanistan engaged in a new verbal war as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a controversial statement on Pakistan’s internal matters. In response, Pakistan urged Afghanistan’s leadership to pay attention to the issues of their own country rather than making statements against others.

Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid had said in a statement posted online that the group’s plan to visit Pakistan stemmed from a “formal invitation” from the Islamabad government and that its delegates would meet with the Pakistan premier.

This month, Zalmay Khalilzad had said that Pakistan’s role was ‘very crucial’ to peace in Afghanistan. Speaking at the US Institute for Peace, Khalilzad - who visited Pakistan more than once in the recent weeks - said the US was happy with what Pakistan had done so far.

Panjgur attack

INP adds: Four FC men were martyred when armed men attacked a security check post here on Sunday.

According to details, unknown miscreants stormed a security check post in Gawargo area of district Panjgur of Balochistan. Four FC personnel including Lance Naek Abdul Rehman, Naseebullah, Noman and Haq Nawaz were martyred in the attack. The assailants fled the scene after the attack.

The bodies were shifted to hospital for postmortem. The FC and Levies cordoning off the area launched search operation.

Chief Minister Balochistan Jam Kamal Khan strongly condemning the attack termed it a conspiracy to undermine the ongoing development process and to destabilise the peace of the province.

He vowed that culprits behind the attack would be traced and brought to book.

Jam Kamal said that our security forces have rendered matchless sacrifices in war on terror and no one would be allowed to sabotage the peace of the country.