Islamabad: The US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Tuesday held detailed meetings with Pakistani officials soon after his arrival here to seek a negotiated settlement of Afghan conflict.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad within hours of President Donald Trump’s letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Pakistan’s role to persuade Afghan Taliban to join Afghan peace process.

Khalilzad Tuesday held meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua. Diplomatic, security and defence officials from both sides also attended the meeting to review a new approach for peaceful and political settlement in Afghanistan, Foreign Office said.

In his dialogue with Qureshi, the US special envoy restated Trump’s desire to seek Pakistan’s cooperation for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Qureshi assured the US envoy of Pakistan’s persistent support for a peaceful settlement. “Pakistan will sincerely continue to cooperate for political settlement in Afghanistan, because peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interest,” Qureshi said.

This is Khalilzad’s second visit to Pakistan since his appointment as special US envoy. He has also requested a meeting with the prime minister.

The visit of Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US adviser and former US ambassador to Afghanistan, is aimed at stepping up efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Afghan government. Informed sources told Gulf News that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has asked his representatives to reach Pakistan to explore the peace process.

While Pakistani officials are holding discussions with US officials on Afghanistan, Gulf News has learnt that Imran Khan will soon write his detailed response to the US President’s letter.

Caution advised

Trump’s letter to Imran Khan requesting assistance to end the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan came weeks after a Twitter spat between the two leaders. Pakistani analysts have termed the US gesture a positive development but urge Pakistan to advance carefully.

Talking to Gulf News, international relations expert Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal termed Trump’s letter a “rational and positive step”. He said Pakistan should take careful and pragmatic steps to play a constructive role in Afghan affairs. “Pakistan at this stage has a decisive role in the Afghan affairs while supporting the American move to bring peace in the region.”

Hussain Nadim, director of South Asia Study Group at University of Sydney, told Gulf News: “As US President Trump has reached out to PM Imran Khan, Pakistan needs to clearly define the terms and conditions and put out its narrative how and how much Pakistan can help and what should be expected by US.”

Nadim stressed “there is a need for candid and honest talks between Pakistan and US” to resolve the Afghan conflict. “Pakistan can play a central role in providing context and platform to two parties involved [US and Taliban] to resolve the issue but it has to be dealt very carefully because there are many stakeholders, internal rivalries and geopolitical aspects involved.”

Pakistani expert on Afghan affairs, Rahimullah Yousafzai, said it is a “positive development that US President Trump has requested Pakistan to play its role in convincing Taliban to come to the negotiation table” which indicates a change in American policy.

“Pakistan supports Afghan owned and Afghan led peace agreement to end the conflict. US must also acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts and sacrifices in the war against terrorism,” he added.