ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban have formally informed Pakistan that they will not hold talks with the Afghan government but are ready to hold direct negotiations with the United States in the first phase, two Taliban leaders aware of the development confirmed on Monday.Taliban political envoys, who had visited Pakistan in January to discuss Pakistan’s prospects for reconciliation, had sought time for consultations with the leaders. Taliban political office in Qatar had confirmed talks with Pakistani officials in a statement and said that Pakistani government wanted to discuss its peace proposals.“I can confirm that we have officially conveyed to Pakistan that we will not talk to the Kabul administration as we do not consider it as a party to the conflict. We are not fighting to seek any share in the government but want foreign invaders should quit Afghanistan. This is the fundamental issue we want to discuss with the US,” a Taliban leader told Daily Times on Monday in a WhatsApp reply.“We want to know if and when the US and its allies plan to leave Afghanistan? If we reach any understanding with the US then the next phase will be discussions with Afghans about the future setup,” he said, adding: “Taliban will not impose themselves on Afghans and favour inclusive setup with participation of all sides.The Taliban official, who wished not to be identified, said Taliban supported informal and unofficial contacts with Afghans but “unfortunately the Kabul administration had created hurdles for such interaction between the Taliban and Afghan personalities”.The Taliban had long been pressing for direct talks with the US and their supreme leader Maulvi Haibtullah had also reiterated the same stance in his Eid message.The US wants the Taliban to sit with the Afghan leaders; however, senior American officials have shown little change in their position and express willingness to join talks with the Taliban and the Afghan government. “We support President Ghani’s offer to extend the ceasefire and begin peace talks. As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces. The United States is prepared to support, facilitate and participate in these discussions,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said on June 16.“The United States stands ready to work with the Afghan government, the Taliban, and all the people of Afghanistan to reach a peace agreement and political settlement that brings a permanent end to this war,” Pompeo had said.On his part, President Ashraf Ghani also hinted at discussion on the presence of foreign troops in an apparent response to Taliban’s calls for withdrawal of foreign forces.“We’re ready for comprehensive negotiations… all those issues and demands that have been put forth. The Afghan government is ready to discuss issues of mutual concern with neighbouring countries and presence of foreign forces,” Ghani had written on Twitter.Taliban had also rejected President Ghani’s offer to extend the three-day ceasefire – observed during Eid holidays – and resumed their attacks Sunday evening as ceasefire officially ended.“Mujahideen throughout the country are ordered to continue their operations against the foreign invaders and their internal puppets as before,” the Taliban said.“The invading American party must realise and understand reality of the situation, stop pointless stubbornness, sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution to the ongoing imbroglio and withdraw their occupying forces from Afghanistan,” a Taliban statement said.Published in Daily Times, June 19th 2018.