The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday that their negotiators would meet US envoys for talks this month in Islamabad, and also sit down with Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss Afghanistan.
The announcement, not immediately confirmed by Washington or Islamabad, comes as America’s chief negotiator tours the globe shoring up support for a peace process to end its longest war.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, held extensive talks with the militants last month in Qatar, where the Taliban have an office. More talks are slated for later in February.
But a Taliban statement issued on Wednesday said separate meetings would be held first on February 18 in Islamabad “by the formal invitation of the government of Pakistan”.
Talks in Doha would follow a week later on February 25, the statement said.
Khalilzad is heading a large delegation on a tour of Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan to boost the peace process and bring all Afghan parties to the table.
He has expressed cautious hope for a deal before Afghan presidential elections slated for July, but says the Taliban must come to the table with the Kabul government, which the insurgents consider a US puppet.
President Ashraf Ghani — who has expressed frustration at being sidelined from recent talks — flew to Munich on Wednesday to attend an international security conference, his office said.
The Taliban also announced a meeting with Prime Minister Khan in Islamabad for “comprehensive discussions” about bilateral affairs with Afghanistan.
News reports last month had suggested that Islamabad was open to hosting the next round of talks with the insurgents.
In January, as he travelled the region building support for the peace process, Khalilzad had met Khan in Islamabad. The premier had said during the meeting that Pakistan remained committed to facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan.