Taliban send high-level delegation to Islamabad

World

Wounded Afghans lie on a bed at a hospital after a bomb attacks in the city of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Afghans headed to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president amid high security and Taliban threats to disrupt the elections, with the rebels warning citizens to stay home or risk being hurt. (AP Photo/Mohammad Anwar Danishyar)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban announced Wednesday they are sending a high-level delegation to Pakistan’s capital as part of a tour that has included Russia, China and Iran in a push to resurrect an Afghanistan peace deal with Washington that seemed imminent just a month ago.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of their political office in Qatar, will lead the 11-member delegation during talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s special peace envoy, is also in the Pakistani capital for “consultations” wiwth the Pakistani leadership, a U.S.official said. He spent the last year negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban, which seemed imminent until Sept. 7 when U.S. President Donald Trump declared the deal “dead.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Khalilzad is not in Islamabad to resume the peace process.

Rather the U.S. peace envoy will follow up on discussions he held with Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

It wasn’t immediately known if Khalilzad will meet with Taliban leader Baradar. The two men held several one-on-one meetings during the many rounds of negotiations held in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar where the Taliban maintain a political office.

Trump ended peace talks after a series of Taliban attacks on the capital Kabul, including one in which a U.S. soldier was killed.

Neither Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry nor the military would comment on the Taliban and Khalilzad visits.

Since Trump ended talks with the Taliban, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and other officials have been urging Washington to resume talks on ending nearly 18 years of fighting in neighboring Afghanistan where, violence has increased in recent months.

Over the past year, the Afghan government was sidelined in the U.S.-Taliban talks with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with Kabul officials as they consider the Afghan government a U.S. puppet. Meanwhile, Taliban attacks have continued unabated, even as Afghanistan held presidential elections Saturday, and weeks after the U.S.-led peace talks collapsed.

Saturday’s vote was marred by violence, Taliban threats and widespread allegations of mismanagement and abuse. It was the fourth time Afghans have gone to the polls to elect a president since 2001 when the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime.

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Gannon reported from Kabul, Afghanistan

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