PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban rejected reports in the Pakistani media that they were ready to resume meetings with the United States. special envoys Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with US special envoys Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting in Prime Minister's office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released January 18, 2018. Press information department (PID) / Handout via REUTERS
Pakistan newspapers and television stations reported that a meeting in Islamabad was in the prospect of following discussions between Khalilzad and Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday.
Senior Taliban leaders said that regional powers including Pakistan had approached them and wanted them to meet the U.S. Delegation in Islamabad also included the Afghan government in the peace process, but the approaches had been rejected.
"We wanted to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement.
Talks between the two sides have stalled after the Taliban accused Khalilzad of straying from the agreed agenda and there is no clarity on when they may resume.
"We have made it clear again and again that we would never hold any meeting with the Afghan government as we know they are unable to address our demands," said one senior Taliban leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The United States says any settlement in Afghanistan must be between the internationally recognized Afghan government and the Taliban, who have so far refused to talk to an administration they describe as an illegitimate puppet regime.
The Taliban leader said peace talks with the US delegation could resume if they were assured that only three issues would be discussed – and U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders.
Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday and met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other officials.
"The two sides reviewed the post-Abu Dhabi developments in order to take the Afghan peace process forward," a foreign office statement said. An Afghan Taliban delegation had a round of talks last month with the US officials in Abu Dhabi.
The statement did not give any further details on the talks, but several local TV channels reported that Pakistan agreed to host the next round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States in Islamabad.
Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran of the United States a diplomat who served as ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was named by the Trump administration four months ago as a special envoy to negotiate peace.
Washington has long been pushing Islamabad to lean on Taliban leaders, who say they are based in Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table.
It has often accused the South Asian nation of coveringtly sheltering Taliban leaders, an accusation of Islamabad vehemently denies.
The United States, which had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at its peak during the first term of former President Barack Obama, withdrew most of them in 2014, but still holds around 14,000 there.
Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Michael Perry