–Taliban spokesman says ‘we want to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad’
–Says militant outfit will not hold any talks with US in presence of Afghan govt because ‘they are incapable of addressing our demands’
–Khalilzad extends stay in Pakistan, to discuss Taliban’s refusal to meet with Pakistani officials
The Afghan Taliban on Saturday rejected media reports that they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government, as the US diplomat extended his stay in Pakistan in wake of the development.
Media reports suggested that a meeting in Islamabad was on the cards following discussions between Khalilzad and Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Senior Taliban leaders said that regional powers, including Pakistan, had approached them and wanted them to meet the US delegation in Islamabad and also include the Afghan government in the peace process but that the approaches had been rejected.
“We want to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said 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 that they are not capable of addressing our demands,” said a senior Taliban leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the US, any settlement in Afghanistan must be between the internationally recognised 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 – a US 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 PM Imran as well as Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other officials.
On Saturday, diplomatic sources said that Khalilzad, who was scheduled to depart from Pakistan on Saturday, had extended his stay in Islamabad and that the date for his return has not been finalised yet.
“The two sides reviewed developments post Abu Dhabi, in order to take the Afghan peace process forward,” a Foreign Office statement had said after a meeting between Foreign Minister Qureshi and Khalilzad. An Afghan Taliban delegation had a round of talks last month with US officials in Abu Dhabi.
The statement didn’t give any further details on the talks, but media reports said that Pakistan agreed to host the next round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States in Islamabad.
According to reports, during the meeting, the US envoy informed the foreign minister that the Afghan Taliban did not want to sit with the Afghan government nor were they agreeing to a ceasefire. The envoy requested Pakistan’s assistance in this matter. Reportedly, the foreign minister agreed to invite the Afghan Taliban to hold talks with the US in Islamabad. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar were also likely to be part of the talks.
Khalilzad, who is currently on his fifth visit to the country since assuming the post, thanked the foreign minister for Pakistan’s continued efforts for arranging talks between the US and the Taliban. He said that the US leadership values Pakistan’s endeavours for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. A US delegation comprising the representatives of American State Department and Defence and National Security Council also attended the meeting.