A group of Taliban negotiators has arrived in Pakistan from the Islamist insurgency's political office in Qatar for "exploratory" meetings with authorities in Islamabad, diplomatic sources confirmed Monday to VOA.
The visit of the three-member Taliban delegation is part of efforts that Pakistan is "cautiously" making to facilitate resumption of Afghan peace and reconciliation talks, the sources said.
The dramatic development happened on a day when Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, in a speech to the national parliament, blamed Pakistan for not preventing fugitive Taliban leaders from using its soil to plot insurgent violence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban delegation includes Shahabuddin Dilawar, Jan Muhammad Madni and Mullah Abbas Akhund. But when contacted by VOA, a Taliban spokesman said he was unaware whether its delegation traveled to Pakistan.
Sources described the visit of Taliban negotiators as a "step to test waters" in the wake of past experiences when efforts to start Afghan peace process faltered even before talks could open.
President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a joint meeting of the National Assembly in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 25, 2016.
The Taliban maintains an office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, and it is authorized by its chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, to conduct political talks.
The arrival Monday in Islamabad of U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jonathan Carpenter gave credence to reports that key stakeholders have stepped up efforts toward restarting peace talks, despite widespread anger and growing demands for Ghani to abandon his policy of engaging the Taliban in such negotiations.
U.S. officials were not available to comment on the purpose of Carpenter's visit. Chinese diplomatic sources told VOA "we are not part of" the "exploratory" discussions with the Taliban.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S. and China launched a four-way dialogue process earlier this year to arrange Afghan reconciliation talks.
In his speech to the parliament Monday, Ghani said his government will talk to Taliban members who are ready to denounce violence and cut ties to terrorists, but he said those negotiations will be held within the Afghan constitution.
Pakistan hosted the first direct talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials last July, the first such interaction since the Islamist group was ousted from power in 2001 and launched insurgent attacks against U.S.-led international and Afghan forces.
But the process came to a halt a few weeks later when it was revealed that Taliban founder and its first leader, Mullah Omar, had died two years ago. The insurgency's Qatar-based political office did not attend those discussions.
Afghan officials maintain that the Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI), covertly supports the Taliban and the Haqqani network of militants fighting alongside the insurgency, charges Islamabad rejects as baseless.