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Thursday, 21 November 2019

Taliban co-founder heads to Pakistan as US envoy visits

AFP , Wednesday 2 Oct 2019
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Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar was due in Pakistan Wednesday as US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also visited, officials said, though it was unclear if they would meet for the first time since Donald Trump scuttled talks between Washington and the insurgents.

Insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that the Pakistan visit would be the fourth leg of a tour that included Russia, China and Iran.

The US embassy confirmed that Khalilzad was in Islamabad "this week" for consultations following discussions between the US and Pakistan at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.

Baradar is head of the Taliban's political wing and usually based in Qatar, where for nearly a year the insurgents held face-to-face meetings with a US delegation led by Khalilzad.

The two sides were on the brink of a deal that would have seen Washington begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in return for various security promises from the Taliban.

On September 7, however, Trump called off a top-secret summit due to be held between the US and the Taliban at Camp David and declared the talks "dead" two days later.

The Taliban threatened more violence, but both the insurgents and the US left the door open for negotiations to resume -- with most experts agreeing Washington will have to return to the table eventually.

Pakistan, which recognised the Taliban regime and has long been accused of supporting the insurgency, helped facilitate the talks and has also called for them to resume.

A senior Taliban source in Pakistan told AFP that the group was aware of Khalilzad's visit and was ready to meet him.

"We have not backtracked from talks," the source added. "It was America who backtracked."

Another senior Taliban militant said it would be "up to Mullah Baradar, who is leading the delegation, to decide whom they would like to talk to".

Pakistani media reported that the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, was also visiting Islamabad. His spokesman declined to confirm the report.

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