Taliban and U.S. Envoy Meet for First Time Since Peace Talks Collapsed

Taliban officials have met in Pakistan with the top American diplomat who recently led peace negotiations with them, current and former members of the insurgent group said on Saturday.

It was the first such meeting since President Trump halted the talks last month, calling off a deal that had already been broadly agreed upon, and blaming an uptick in Taliban violence.

The meeting in recent days in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, between Taliban officials and the American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, came after a surge in bloodshed. The Taliban had spent days concentrating attacks across the country before last week’s Afghan presidential election, in an effort to derail the electoral process and keep voters from the polls.

A State Department spokesman, as well as Taliban spokesmen, declined to comment. Reuters was first to report the meeting on Friday.

The discussions between the two sides were informal, the Taliban members said, and did not indicate the beginning of a new round of peace discussions, only that one may take place in the future. After Mr. Trump canceled the talks and a possible peace deal, Washington has been quiet on the United States’ future strategy for Afghanistan.

The Taliban members remained uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the meeting, but two Taliban representatives, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, confirmed the meeting without providing details.

A news website with deep access to senior Taliban officials reported that Mr. Khalilzad had met “repeatedly” with the Taliban during his time in Islamabad, suggesting it was more than one meeting.

Sayid Akbar Agha, a former Taliban member who maintains contact with the group, also confirmed the meeting. Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the American-led mission in Afghanistan, was in Islamabad at the time of the meeting, Mr. Agha said, but it was unclear whether he attended.

Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, said he would not comment on General Miller’s travels.

Mr. Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday to meet with Pakistani officials there, who, along with the Taliban, have urged Washington to restart negotiations to end the 18-year war.

Over the summer, Mr. Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators, initialed a deal “in principle” after nine rounds of discussions in Doha, Qatar. It included the eventual withdrawal of the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan and assurances from the Taliban that the country would not be a haven for terrorists.

But last month, Mr. Trump called off the deal on Twitter, pointing to an uptick in violence across Afghanistan and the death of an American soldier, along with 11 other people, in a Taliban-directed suicide bombing in Kabul, the capital.

After the talks collapsed, American lawmakers subpoenaed Mr. Khalilzad to appear in front of Congress to explain the administration’s strategy for bringing the war to an end.

If the peace efforts resume, it is unclear whether the two sides will reopen what was a finalized and initialed deal awaiting announcement, or focus more on preparing ground for the announcement of the agreement, which has also faced resistance from the Afghan government. One measure the two sides could take to prepare the ground for resuming the peace efforts is a mutual reduction of violence.

The American diplomat’s visit to Islamabad happened to overlap with the presence of Taliban negotiators, based in Qatar, who were there for a series of meetings with Pakistani officials.

The Taliban negotiators’ meetings in Pakistan rankled some Afghan government officials, who have been mostly relegated to the sidelines of the peace talks as the Taliban have, for the most part, refused to meet with the Afghan government.

The Taliban have long used Pakistan as a sanctuary for the group’s fighters, a move that has frustrated American officials who have called on Islamabad to do more to combat the insurgent group.

Soon after the Taliban delegation arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday, Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, posted on Twitter that “no progress will be imminent if a peace process is not owned and led by the Afghan government.” In doing so, he backhandedly rebuked Pakistan’s decision to host the Taliban.

But on Friday, in an interview with local news media, Sibghat Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the ministry welcomed Pakistan’s decision. Mr. Ahmadi’s comments soon came under fire, with Mr. Sediqqi saying on Twitter on Saturday that Mr. Ahmadi’s comments “doesn’t reflect the Afghan government views; rather it’s his personal remarks.”

Footage released by the Pakistani government this week showed the Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar embracing Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and the director of the country’s intelligence services, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed. Mullah Baradar was captured in 2010 in Karachi, Pakistan, and spent eight years in prison before he was released last year.