Long a spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to US-Taliban talks

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

Russia's Foreign Office has said that US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan will be a step towards the beginning of the peace talks adding that US should put into practice the agreement made between Taliban and the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha talks.

The Pakistani assistance, which has not been reported in such detail before, also includes exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants' families, the insurgents say. Sources caution its help could be temporary.

He also repeated his earlier warning that it would take more than one meeting to end a 40-year-old war in Afghanistan.

"The other issues that must be dealt with are issues of a roadmap for Afghanistan to end the Afghan war".

One senior USA official, who declined to be identified, said of Pakistan's role in the talks: "We know it just wouldn't be possible without their support". But he said there are ongoing discussions about arranging some sort of cease-fire.

Speaking at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, America's chief negotiator for Afghanistan acknowledged that the US and the Taliban had reached a framework agreement in Doha last month, but more talks were needed for reaching a conclusion.

When asked about Pakistan's role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, Mujahid said: "There is no role being played by any outside country".

Pakistan had not played a positive role historically with regard to the Afghan peace process, but with the release of Baradar, it had shown a positive change in its approach, Khalilzad remarked. He said he wants those intra-Afghan negotiations to start immediately.

He said the Taliban did not want to be "a pariah state" and had told him that they did not see a military solution to the conflict.

He said that Pakistan should avoid both, appeasing the Taliban or capitulating its stance on Afghanistan under external pressure.

If the Taliban were to hold talks with the Kabul government, it would mean that they had "accepted this stooge regime as a legitimate government (even though it was) imposed upon us by aircraft and (the) bombing of invaders", he said. Trump at the time accused Islamabad of rewarding past USA aid with "nothing but lies & deceit".

Senior Taliban negotiator Abdul Salam Hanafi said that United States diplomats had agreed to remove half of the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of April and that the withdrawal process had already begun.

Taliban leaders this week spent two days in talks in Moscow for an extraordinary summit that saw Afghan political figures from outside the government meeting with former sworn enemies.

Pakistani sources suggest that the driver behind their country's support for the talks is not USA aid but growing concerns over the regional economic shock waves that could follow an abrupt US pullout from Afghanistan.

In the statement, Juncker underlined that the withdrawal agreement represents a carefully balanced compromise between the European Union and Britain, in which both sides have made significant concessions to arrive at a deal.

"We have enough economic issues of our own to deal with already".

"We welcome that. We want them to, to play a positive role", said the United States diplomat who has had several rounds of talks with the the Taliban in Doha.

Now the newly appointed chief negotiator, Baradar is expected to fly from Pakistan to attend the next round of negotiations in Doha on February 25.

Instead of withdrawing upon reaching a peace deal, the condition the Taliban are seeking, Khalilzad indicated that the United States would only leave if "there is no threat to our national security from Afghanistan".

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