ISLAMABAD: A group of senior Taleban were warmly welcomed by Pakistani officials as they arrived in Islamabad yesterday, where the foreign minister called for a resumption of talks with the US on the war in Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taleban's co-founder who spent eight years in a Pakistani prison, was greeted with hugs and smiles by Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and spy chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, footage released by the ministry showed.

Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognize the Taleban regime and its shadowy military establishment, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which Hameed heads, and is widely believed to back the bloody insurgency in Afghanistan. Islamabad denies the accusation.

Pakistan has helped facilitate talks between the Taleban and Washington in Qatar over the past year, seeking an agreement to pave the way for a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in return for various security promises from the insurgents. The two sides were on the brink of a deal - with an announcement widely expected to be imminent - when US President Donald Trump abruptly declared the process "dead" last month, citing Taleban violence.

The Taleban threatened more attacks, 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. Islamabad wants the talks to resume "to smooth the path for a durable, long-lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan", Qureshi was quoted as saying in the statement. "War is not a solution to any problem. Talks are the only and positive solution to establish peace in Afghanistan," he continued.

'Full cooperation'
The Taleban said that, along with the peace process, they had also discussed bilateral ties, politics, "education, health, travel and visa related issues to Afghan refugees in Pakistan". For decades, Pakistan has hosted refugees fleeing fighting in Afghanistan, including the Taleban insurgency.
Qureshi "promised full cooperation", the Taleban said in a statement from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid sent to AFP by WhatsApp. The visit came as Zalmay Khalilzad, who headed the US negotiating team in Doha across the table from Baradar, also visited Islamabad this week, though it was unclear if he was still in Pakistan yesterday. The US Embassy in Islamabad has said only that Khalilzad was visiting the country "this week", while the State Department did not confirm his travel dates.

The Taleban's Doha-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen said on Wednesday that the simultaneous visits to Pakistan were a "coincidence". But when asked whether there was any possibility of the insurgents meeting Khalilzad, he replied: "Why not? It depends on the Americans." The Taleban are still ready to sign the agreement which was hashed out between the two sides in Doha, he said. "We stand for it. The Americans have backtracked and they will have to take the initiative."

Baradar was the most high-profile Afghan Taleban leader detained by Pakistan following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He was released from prison last October and appointed to head the insurgent's political office in a move seen as a tentative effort to aid the talks. The Taleban have said that the Pakistan visit is the fourth leg of a tour that included Russia, China and Iran. A Taleban commander told AFP that Baradar and the 11 other militants will spend four days in Pakistan.- AFP