Islamabad, Pakistan - United States Special Envoy on Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is due to arrive in the Pakistani capital Islamabad for talks with the country's civilian and military leadership, as the Afghan Taliban threaten to pull out of peace talks that could see an end to the 17-year Afghan War. Khalilzad is expected to land in Islamabad on Thursday, although the envoy's schedule has been fluid in recent days after his visits to New Delhi, Beijing and Kabul, with brief stops in Dubai, since embarking on his regional tour earlier this month. The US envoy's visit to Pakistan comes as the Afghan Taliban on Tuesday threatened to pull the plug on direct negotiations with the US, accusing the country of duplicity in a statement issued to the media. "If [the US] seeks to avoid accepting the legitimate demands of Afghans and under various excuses wishes to pursue its colonial and military objectives in the guise of peace ... it means it has a lack of interest in finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem," read the Taliban statement. In advance of Khalilzad's visit, senior US State Department official Lisa Curtis has been holding meetings in the Pakistani capital.
The United Arab Emirates said talks it is hosting between the United States and the Taliban have yielded "positive" results. The US-Taliban "reconciliation talks" produced "tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned", the UAE's official WAM news agency said on Wednesday. A new round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi "to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process", it said without providing further details. The two days of meetings in the Emirati capital are Washington's latest attempt at ending Afghanistan's 17-year conflict, which has cost it nearly $1 trillion since 2011 when it led an invasion to overthrow the Taliban government of Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks. President George W Bush's administration at the time accused the Afghan group of harbouring Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, which carried out the attacks.
Critical peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Qatar have been postponed after a disagreement over who should attend. Sultan Barakat, director of Qatar's Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, the organisation sponsoring the talks, tweeted news of the postponement, saying "this is unfortunately necessary to further build consensus as to who should participate in the conference". The talks, scheduled for Friday between Afghan government and Taliban representatives, were considered a significant first step towards finding a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan and the eventual withdrawal of US troops, which would end the US's longest war. A list of 243 people was announced by Qatar on Thursday. That list differed from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's list of 250 people, which included around 50 women, according to a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Taliban has named a 14-member team of negotiators, including five former Guantanamo Bay inmates and a high-profile jailed leader, for the second round of talks with the United States. With the move announced on Tuesday, the group has pushed for the release of Anas Haqqani, younger brother of the leader of the powerful Taliban faction, Haqqani network. He is currently held in a jail in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Haqqani "should be released to start work on the negotiating team". He said Haqqani "was a student at the time of his arrest and was not involved in any activity for which he should be arrested".
Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to start in Qatar within a week once the final batch of Taliban prisoners was released, the US special envoy and Afghan government sources said on Monday. The government accepted the advice of a Loya Jirga, a grand assembly of elders sometimes held to decide on controversial issues, on Sunday to release 400 Taliban prisoners, paving the way for the so-called intra-Afghan talks aimed at ending a war that has ground on since Taliban government was removed from power in US-led invasion in 2001. The prisoner release was part of a US-Taliban agreement signed in February. The Afghan government, which was not party to the deal, was expected to release a total of 5,000 prisoners to kickstart the talks. "Our stance is clear, if the prisoner release is completed, then we are ready for the intra-Afghan talks within a week," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP news agency, adding that the first round of talks will be held in Doha, the capital of Qatar.