Taliban team in Islamabad for talks with Pakistan officials
Pakistan has invited key members of the Taliban's negotiating team to Islamabad, where senior officials will this week press them on the importance of starting peace talks, the country's foreign minister said Monday.
The meetings come at a crucial time in Afghanistan's conflict, with talks once again stalled amid a controversial prisoner swap. "The delegation is in Islamabad and we will have a round of talks with them tomorrow as part of efforts aimed at (building) mutual confidence," foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference.
The Taliban and the Afghan government had signalled they were prepared to start talks immediately after the Muslim festival of Eid, which ended earlier this month, but the process remains bogged down over a prisoner exchange.
Kabul has released about 4,680 insurgent prisoners while the Taliban say they have freed 1,000 members of Afghan security forces, broadly fulfilling an agreement outlined in a deal reached between the US and the Taliban.
But the swap has stumbled over the final few hundred prisoners, with Kabul reluctant to release what it says are dangerous Taliban fighters tied to deadly attacks. Qureshi said Islamabad had invited the Taliban to Pakistan to stress the importance of talks, saying negotiations were the "the only way forward" in Afghanistan.
"This is for Afghans to reconcile, and our task is that of facilitator," he added. "The main objective is to secure peace and the next phase should be the start of intra-Afghan dialogue."
In October 2019, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- the Taliban's co-founder who spent eight years in Pakistani custody -- led a delegation to Islamabad ahead of a deal the insurgents signed in February with Washington.
Islamabad has said its influence over the Taliban encouraged the militants to join talks with the US. Tensions remain high between Islamabad and Kabul, with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani frequently lashing out at Islamabad for allegedly sheltering, funding and supplying the Taliban.
Pakistan, which was one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban regime in the 1990s, denies the claims.
On Sunday, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that Baradar and other negotiators would discuss "recent developments in Afghanistan's peace process, relaxation and facilitation of peoples' movement and trade between the two neighbouring countries."