Islamabad, February 14: The Taliban said Wednesday its negotiators would next week meet the top US and Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Imran Khan during a key round of talks in Islamabad as part of the ongoing Afghan peace talks. Neither Washington nor Islamabad immediately confirmed the announcement by the Taliban.
On the "formal invitation of the government of Pakistan, another meeting is scheduled to take place between the negotiation teams of the Islamic Emirate and the US on 18th of February, 2019 in Islamabad," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement. US-Taliban Talks Lead to Draft Framework for Peace Deal.
The Taliban's delegation would also meet Prime Minister Khan, the statement said. Mujahid said the regular round of talks was already scheduled to be held on February 25 in Qatar. He said that in the meeting with Khan, Taliban would have "comprehensive discussions about Pak-Afghan relations and issues pertaining to Afghan refugees and Afghan businessmen".
Though there was no official confirmation, diplomatic sources in Pakistan said that the Taliban delegation would visit Pakistan and hold talks with both American and Pakistani officials. The Taliban and the US are in a discussion to end more than a 17-year long bloody war in Afghanistan.
The Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. Special US Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad recently said after six days of talks with the Taliban representatives in Doha last month that the US has made "significant progress" in its peace talks with the Taliban.
Since being appointed in September, Khalilzad has met with all sides in an attempt to end America's longest war in which the US has lost over 2,400 soldiers in more than 17 years. US President Donald Trump reportedly wants to cut in half the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and the Taliban leaders have made a US withdrawal a key condition in peace negotiations.