ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - American and Taliban officials are set to meet Monday in Pakistan for a new round of direct peace negotiations aimed at paving the way for a political settlement to the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
Until now, the Gulf states of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have played host to the meetings where U.S. special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and senior insurgent negotiator, Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, led their respective delegations.
In their last meeting held in Doha, the Qatari capital, both sides had agreed on a framework for a possible U.S. troop withdrawal in exchange for Taliban counterterrorism guarantees, saying they would set up two working groups to flesh out the parameters before their next encounter.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced Wednesday the Feb. 18 meeting has been scheduled to take place in Islamabad at the formal invitation of the government in Pakistan. A senior Pakistani foreign ministry official confirmed this development to VOA on the condition of anonymity.
In his statement, Mujahid said insurgent delegates during their visit also will meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss relations between their two neighboring countries and issues facing Afghan refugees and Afghan businesses.
Pakistan maintains it has arranged ongoing U.S.-Taliban negotiations to help promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the Taliban announced its 14-member team of negotiators, some of them based in Qatar with others allegedly in Pakistan.
The ongoing U.S. talks with the Taliban have generated hopes for jump-starting an intra-Afghan inclusive peace process to determine the war-shattered country's political future.
While delivering a public talk in Washington last week, Khalilzad cautioned it was too early to draw any conclusions. "Nothing is agreed until everything has been agreed to. ... The Afghans must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about the future of their country," the U.S. envoy emphasized.
Washington and Kabul have long accused Islamabad of sheltering Taliban leaders on its soil — charges Pakistani officials reject.
But Khalilzad acknowledged in his public talk Pakistan's "positive" role, saying the country "has tried to facilitate talks between the Taliban and the U.S. and also favors intra-Afghan dialogue, including between the Taliban and the government [in Kabul]."