The State Department did not comment on reports of the meeting with the Taliban but said U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad traveled to Islamabad to meet with Pakistani officials. The department said in a news release that the trip did not represent “
a restart of the Afghan Peace Process.”
In addition to their visit to Pakistan, Taliban representatives have made similar visits to Russia, China and Iran.
Before talks were called off last month, they were aimed at reaching a peace deal under which the United States would withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge from Taliban leadership to cut ties with al-Qaeda and support counterterrorism efforts. Khalilzad’s team and Taliban leaders had negotiated for more than 10 months, and Khalilzad said in early September that a deal had been reached “in principle.”
An announcement of a peace deal appeared to be imminent until Trump abruptly scuttled talks on Sept. 7. Trump said the decision was made after a Taliban attack resulted in the death of an American service member on Sept. 5.
But in the days that followed, officials in Kabul and Washington cautioned that talks were likely on hold rather than entirely scrapped. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to signal as much when he told Fox News in a Sept. 8 interview that the negotiations were off “for the time being.”
Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan earlier this week, and Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announced Wednesday that a delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would also travel to Pakistan. Baradar is a co-founder of the Taliban movement and was a lead negotiator throughout talks with Khalilzad.
Video released by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry showed Taliban leaders embracing ministry officials as they arrived in Islamabad for meetings. Pakistan has urged both sides to resume peace talks, and the Taliban has said it remains open to talks with the United States.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday that the “agenda for discussions” with Pakistani officials included “issues of restoration of peace and security in the region.” The statement made no mention of talks with Americans.
A State Department spokesperson said Wednesday that Khalilzad was in Pakistan “for consultations with authorities in Pakistan” to follow up on discussions held between Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan at the U.N. General Assembly last week. The spokesperson was not authorized to discuss the trip on the record and released the statement on the condition of anonymity.
After meeting with Taliban leaders Thursday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Islamabad and the Taliban “agreed on the need for … resumption of the peace process.”
It is “time to make all possible efforts for an early, peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The statement also warned that “broad regional and international consensus for achieving peace in Afghanistan … provided an unprecedented opportunity that must not be lost.”
Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul contributed to this report.