PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban have announced that the next round of pace talks with the US officials will be in Pakistan on 18 February.

The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the Taliban negotiating team will also meet Prime Minister Imran Khan to discuss future peace prospects and Pak-Afghan relations in the wake of possible changing scenario. He said after the talks in Pakistan, the Taliban will hold next round of talks with the US officials in Doha (Qatar) on 25 February. However, he did not say anything about the inclusion of the Afghan government in the negotiations process.

There was no immediate confirmation from Pakistan government about the scheduled meeting.

The US said it is aware about the Taliban statement, but hasn’t received a formal invitation for negotiations. The State Department spokesperson said Washington had noted the announcement but had not received a formal invitation to any talks.

The Taliban surprise announced came at a time when US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is touring six countries, including Pakistan, to gather support for a peace process to end war in Afghanistan.

The peace process was initiated with the support of Pakistan after US President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan to help them begin talks with the Afghan Taliban. The US and Pakistani officials are hopeful of a positive outcome of the talks. However, the main stumbling block in the talks is the refusal by the Taliban to accommodate the Afghan government in the negotiations as they consider the sitting government as puppet without any real power.

The world community is also appreciating the role of Pakistan in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. The main demand of the Taliban is withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, while the US is seeking complete ceasefire from the militants and a pledge from them not to support any militant activity or militant group in future.

On 12 February, the Afghan Taliban announced a 13-member team for the next round of peace talks with the US. Previously, an eight-member Taliban team negotiated with the US delegation.

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