Imran Khan Revives Dialogue With Taliban to Influence Outcome

(Bloomberg) -- Pakistan has invited U.S. officials and Taliban representatives for a meeting in Islamabad next week, as part of efforts to end the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan.

The meeting will be held on Pakistan government’s invitation on Feb. 18, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in a statement on Wednesday. Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s information minister confirmed the talks on Thursday without giving details.

The U.S. hasn’t received an invitation but it “supports all steps that would lead to a genuine intra-Afghan dialogue that includes the Afghan government, the Taliban, and other Afghans,” Richard W. Snelsire, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in the Pakistani capital, said in an emailed response to a query.

Pakistan’s move to revive the talks with the militants in the nation after about three years may help Prime Minister Imran Khan, a supporter of the Taliban, to influence any deal that may be reached. The Taliban negotiators will separately meet Khan to discuss relations between the neighboring countries and talk on the issue of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Taliban spokesman Mujahed said in a statement.

Imran Khan Revives Dialogue With Taliban to Influence Outcome

“It gives Pakistan an importance and serves its political and strategic view point because a friendly government and a peaceful Afghanistan benefits it,” said Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based security analyst. “This way Pakistan can influence the peace talks.”

The insurgent group is already holding talks with U.S. officials in Doha as President Donald Trump is pushing to end the longest U.S. war in history through negotiations with the militants. The U.S., Taliban and the government of Afghanistan have reached an agreement in principle on a framework for U.S. withdrawal from the country, Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump’s special envoy on Afghan reconciliation, told reporters last week.

“The meeting will be a game changer,” minister Chaudhry told reporters in Islamabad. “The negotiation in Pakistan is expected to lead to stability in Afghanistan.”

The next round of talks between the U.S. officials and Taliban is scheduled on Feb. 25 in Doha, according to Wednesday’s statement by the militant group, which has refused to sit with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s team as it doesn’t recognize his government in Kabul.

Trump in a letter last year sought Pakistani premier’s “support and facilitation” for a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war. The meeting will be held a day after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tour to Pakistan, where he is expected to discuss Afghanistan situation.

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