A flurry of Afghan peace activity will take place in Pakistan in the coming days as American special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is set to open talks in Islamabad on Thursday to explore ways for political solution to the Afghan conflict. Khalilzad, who has been involved in talks with Afghan leaders in Kabul over the past few days, will be holding meetings with Pakistani leaders amid the Taliban’s growing frustration at his cancellation of meeting with their political envoys in Qatar last week. The US envoy Wednesday angrily reacted to Taliban’s recent statement in which they accused him of “backing away” from discussion on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. Taliban also threatened to halt all talks and negotiations as they claimed the US envoy is exerting “unlawful pressure by enticing other countries” to force them sit with the Kabul administration. Khalilzad also had a tough message for the Taliban who said in Kabul the US is also ready for war if the Taliban chose the same path. “If the Taliban want to talk, we can talk. If they want to fight, we can fight,” Khalilzad said in the Afghan capital, a day after he met President Ashraf Ghani, according to Tolo TV. “We hope that the Talibans want to make peace. But if they do not choose to come to the table, if they choose to continue fighting, the United States will stand with the Afghan people and the Afghan government and support them,” the US envoy was quoted as saying. The US envoy had arrived in Kabul on Monday following stops in India, the United Arab Emirates, and China. Khalilzad cancelled meeting with the Taliban political envoys in Qatar last week and is now mainly depending on Pakistan to press the Taliban come to the negotiation table with the Kabul administration. A Taliban official said they were earlier told meetings with Khalilzad were scheduled on Jan. 9-10 in Qatar. Although Khalilzad presses for Pakistan’s role to broker the intra-Afghan dialogue, Pakistanis emphasize bringing the Taliban to the table with Kabul is a shared responsibility, especially of those who have contacts with the Taliban political office. Pakistan officials believe Khalilzad cannot “perpetually hide behind Pakistan’s support” for talks or unending series of “talks about talks” meetings from capital to capital, adding that ball is very much in the US court. “So far they have carried forward the entire initiative through media hints and rumored news. This will not work beyond a point that they will arrive at very soon. It is absolutely the US not Pakistani sincerity that is on the burner now,” an official source said, when asked if it is the responsibility of Pakistan to push the Taliban sit face-to-face with the Afghan government. “In case the US failed to deliver on the hyped up expectations they have themselves generated, things would relapse into a stalemate again, which would be more tenacious than anyone can imagine now,” he said. “There is considerable international optimism as a result of hyped up expectations. If not supported by real give and take, even some initial give and take, a doubt may soon set in about the dialogue process itself. This is what we are eager to prevent at all costs. If it happened…a more severe type of stalemate will take over,” the official warned. Officials believe Pakistan is making all possible efforts that the rare opportunity of the US-Taliban interaction is not lost. “Pakistan has been faithfully conveying the messages on two sides…both as a friend of Afghans and the US. However, the problem is that both friends have to have a deal among themselves and Pakistan has no influence to change the behavior of either friend,” they reminded to the US officials. The US envoy had been critical at the Taliban since they snubbed him over his quest for meeting with the Afghan officials in the United Arab Emirates last month. Afghan officials say the US had assured them the Taliban would meet them at the Dec. 17-18 talks. Prime Minister Imran Khan had insisted Pakistan had facilitated the UAE talks between the US and the Taliban. Pakistani officials are also surprised at the US envoy’s changing approach towards his own peace initiative over his remarks on the continuation of war. “I think Ambassador Khalilzad needs to be asked what has happened to the sense of ‘urgency’ for an agreement, he had generated during his past visits,” an official said. The US envoy does not have the luxury of unlimited time to deliver on his sense of urgency, especially when Pakistan has done what it was asked that include bringing the Taliban to the table. Now the important question is what the US and his Afghan allies have put on the table? Published in Daily Times, January 17th 2019.