U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and the top U.S. commander in the country, General Scott Miller, met with Pakistani military leaders in Islamabad, following talks with senior Taliban representatives in Doha.
The talks in the Pakistani and Qatari capitals came after an initial prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The prisoner swap is considered key to paving the way for peace talks between the two sides aimed at putting an end to the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad and Miller, commander of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, visited Islamabad on April 14 and discussed with Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa the United States’ “ongoing efforts for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan said in a statement.
“Pakistan’s military leaders reaffirmed their support for U.S. efforts and renewed their commitment to act to advance a political settlement to the conflict,” it added.
During their talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar on April 13, Khalilzad and Miller discussed "current challenges" in implementing a peace deal signed in Doha on February 29 by the United States and the Taliban, according to the U.S. State Department.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban office in Qatar’s capital, said on Twitter that Khalilzad and Miller met with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of Afghanistan's Taliban and its chief negotiator.
Shaheen said the two sides discussed the "complete implementation" of the U.S.-Taliban deal for a phased U.S. troop withdrawal. Shaheen said they also discussed a "delay in the release of prisoners."
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Taliban on April 12 released 20 Afghan government prisoners in the southern province of Kandahar.
A Taliban spokesman told AFP that its decision to release a first group of prisoners was "a goodwill step...to accelerate the prisoner exchange process."
Earlier, the Afghan government had released 100 Taliban prisoners -- bringing to 300 the total number of Taliban inmates freed by Kabul since April 8.
Khalilzad on April 13 said the start of prisoner swaps by Kabul and the Taliban was "an important step" toward Afghan talks on a permanent peace deal and called for accelerated efforts "to meet targets specified in the U.S.-Taliban agreement as soon as possible."
He said the prisoner exchange was more important than ever because prison populations are threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.
The pact signed by the United States and the Taliban in Doha calls for the Afghan government to release a total of 5,000 Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks aimed at ending the Afghan conflict.
In return, the Taliban has vowed to release some 1,000 Afghan government troops and civilian workers it is holding.
But the Taliban last week recalled a three-member team it had sent to Kabul to try to finalize the swap, originally set to happen by March 10.
The militants blamed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's administration for delaying the exchange "under one pretext or another," while Kabul called on the Taliban not to "sabotage the process by making excuses."
Under the U.S.-Taliban accord, talks between Kabul and the Taliban and a series of security commitments from the militants are to be met by the withdrawal from Afghanistan of all U.S. troops and other foreign coalition forces within 14 months.