ISLAMABAD - The United States and the Afghan Taliban will soon return to the talks table as a result of Islamabad’s efforts, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said yesterday.

His statement came after a prisoners swap between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban freed two university professors identified as US citizen Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks. They had been held by the Taliban for three years.

In response, three Taliban commanders were released by the Afghan government. The men, including senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani, landed in Qatar, which hosts the group’s political office at the request of the US.

Speaking to a group of journalists here, Qureshi said Pakistan played an important role for the release of Kevin King and Timothy Weeks. “These are the right steps towards peace. We hope peace will return to Afghanistan soon,” he added.

Says Pakistan played important role to get foreign professors released

Prime Minister Imran Khan also welcomed the release of two US professors. The premier took to twitter and wrote, “We appreciate steps taken by all involved to make it possible. As part of the international community working to bring peace and end the suffering of the Afghan people, Pakistan has fully supported and facilitated this release as part of its policy of supporting initiatives for a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict.” He added: “We hope this step gives a boost of confidence to all parties involved to re-engage in the peace process. Pakistan remains committed to facilitating this peace process.”

Qureshi said Pakistan was playing a lead role for peace in the region. “We have done this for regional peace. With our help, the US and Taliban are returning to the talks table,” he said.

Pakistan and Afghan Taliban, he said, had agreed on the need for earliest resumption of the Afghan peace process. Last month, an understanding was reached in a meeting between Foreign Minister Qureshi and a delegation of the Taliban Political Commission led by its head Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar in Islamabad.

The Afghan Taliban delegation also met US special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in an ‘official meeting’ hinting that the resumption of a formal dialogue process was on the anvil.

Foreign Minister Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s commitment and continued strong support for all efforts for peace in Afghanistan. “Pakistan will continue to support all efforts to achieve permanent peace in Afghanistan, which is essential for Pakistan’s own socio-economic development and progress,” he said.

Qureshi said the direct Taliban-US talks since last year, strongly and sincerely supported by Pakistan, have now laid a firm ground for achieving a sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan.

Appreciating Taliban’s serious engagement in the peace process, the Foreign Minister underscored the need to take these efforts to their logical conclusion.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan had maintained for several years that there was no military solution to the complex situation in Afghanistan. “An inclusive peace and reconciliation process, involving all sections of the Afghan society, is the only, practical way forward,” he said.

The recent visit by the Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt. General Faiz Hameed and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood had also been ‘positive.’

The high-level Pakistani delegation has travelled to Kabul on November 11 to discuss efforts to normalize relations between Islamabad and Kabul. The two neighboring Muslim-majority nations have an uneasy relationship. Kabul has long blamed Islamabad for supporting the Taliban in the country’s protracted war - a charge Pakistan rejects.

Pakistan has brought the US and Afghan Taliban back to the talks’ table after President Donald Trump called off the dialogue in September.

President Trump had halted the talks, aimed at a plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, following the death of a US soldier and 11 others in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.

US peace talks with the Taliban are now “dead,” President Donald Trump declared, one day after he abruptly cancelled a secret meeting he had arranged with Taliban and Afghan leaders aimed at ending America’s longest war.