Islamabad: Top US civil and military officials held a crucial meeting with Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss the resumption of peace process in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan-US bilateral ties.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation and General Austin Scott Miller, top US military officer in Afghanistan, visited the Pakistan Army headquarters on Monday to discuss matters of mutual interest, Afghanistan reconciliation process and overall regional security situation.

Pakistan’s military delegation led by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Bajwa also included Director General ISI Lieutenant General Faiz Hamid and other senior defence officials. The visit comes in the backdrop of the resumption of peace talks in Afghanistan after a three-week break by both the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Pakistan to continue its contribution for regional peace

General Bajwa praised the role of the Nato-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM) for peace and stability in Afghanistan and assured the US officials that “Pakistan will continue to play its positive role for peace and stability in the region”.

The visiting dignitary appreciated “Pakistan’s untiring efforts for facilitating the process towards the mutual objective of peace in the region” an official statement said. Afghanistan’s neighbour Pakistan played a significant role in the historic US-Taliban 2020 peace talks by bringing stakeholders to the negotiating table. The “historic breakthrough” in peace talks could not have been achieved without Islamabad’s efforts, Pakistani officials say.

Ceasefire urgency

In a series of tweets, the US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan expressed concern over the 20-day break in peace talks announced by the two Afghan negotiating teams. “Tragically, the war continues. The need for a political settlement, reduction in violence, and a ceasefire remain urgent,” Khalilzad said. “Given how much is at stake, it is imperative that there [are] no delays in resumption of talks and they must resume on January 5 as agreed,” he said.

US troop withdrawal

Under the US-Taliban peace agreement signed in February 2020, the number of American troops in Afghanistan has reduced to 4,500 and all the remaining foreign soldiers are expected to leave the country by May 2021.

General Austin Scott Miller, who serves as the commanding officer of both Nato’s Resolute Support Mission and US Forces – Afghanistan, has confirmed receiving orders to cut the American military presence to 2,500 by mid-January. However, the US withdrawal will be condition-based.