In First Since Trump Called Off Talks, U.S. Envoy Meets Taliban in Pakistan

Parties aim at striking deal that would see U.S., other foreign troops pull out in exchange for security guarantees, but sources say no formal resumption of negotiations

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, third from left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks in Moscow, Russia, on May 28, 2019.
Alexander Zemlianichenko,AP

A Taliban delegation met U.S. special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Pakistan's capital Islamabad on Thursday, two sources told Reuters, the first known contact between the two sides since U.S. President Donald Trump called off talks last month.

Sources cautioned the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, did not represent a resumption of formal negotiations.

U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019.
\ Omar Sobhani/ REUTERS

"The Taliban officials held a meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad...all I can tell you is that Pakistan played a big role in it to convince them how important it was for the peace process," a senior Pakistan government official told Reuters, declining to be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

He added the contact, which was confirmed by a second source, did not involve formal negotiations on the peace process, but were interactions aimed at building confidence. He declined to elaborate further on the content of the discussions.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and State Department in Washington declined to comment on whether a meeting had taken place. A State Department spokesperson said that Khalilzad had spent "several days" in Islamabad this week for consultations with authorities in Pakistan.

The spokesperson said Khalilzad's meetings while in Islamabad did not represent a re-start to the Afghan peace process.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, would not confirm or deny that Taliban had met Khalilzad, adding that the Taliban delegation was still in Islamabad for meetings on Friday.

Trump halted the talks with the Taliban, aimed at striking a deal allowing U.S. and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, following the death of a U.S. solder and 11 others in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.

The Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group's founders, had earlier met Pakistan's foreign minister in Islamabad on Thursday and both sides called for a resumption of the talks as soon as possible.

The United States has long considered Pakistan's cooperation crucial to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan and the latest developments follow a meeting last week between Trump and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The U.S. and Taliban said last month, shortly before talks broke off, that they were close to reaching a deal, despite concerns among some U.S. security officials and within the Afghan government that a U.S. withdrawal could lead to more conflict and a possible resurgence of Islamist militant factions.