The meetings come at a crucial time in Afghanistan's conflict, with peace talks between the Afghan government and militant group once again stalled amid a controversial prisoner swap.

In this May 28, 2019 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader (second left), arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks in Moscow, Russia.
In this May 28, 2019 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader (second left), arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks in Moscow, Russia. (AP)

A Taliban political team has arrived in Pakistan as efforts appear to be ramping up to get negotiations underway between the Afghan government and the insurgents.

Pakistan invited key members of the Taliban's negotiating team to Islamabad, where senior officials will this week press them on the importance of starting peace talks.

Pakistan's foreign minister said on Monday the meetings come at a crucial time in Afghanistan's conflict, with talks once again stalled amid a controversial prisoner swap. 

"The delegation is in Islamabad and we will have a round of talks with them tomorrow as part of efforts aimed at (building) mutual confidence," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference.

The Taliban and the Afghan government had signalled they were prepared to start talks immediately after the Muslim festival of Eid, which ended earlier this month, but the process remains bogged down over a prisoner exchange.

Kabul has released about 4,680 insurgent prisoners while the Taliban say they have freed 1,000 members of Afghan security forces, broadly fulfilling an agreement outlined in a deal reached between the US and the Taliban.

But the swap has stumbled over the final few hundred prisoners, with Kabul reluctant to release what it says are dangerous Taliban fighters tied to deadly attacks.

'Only way forward'

Qureshi said Islamabad had invited the Taliban to Pakistan to stress the importance of talks, saying negotiations were the "the only way forward" in Afghanistan.

"This is for Afghans to reconcile, and our task is that of facilitator," he added.

"The main objective is to secure peace and the next phase should be the start of intra-Afghan dialogue."

In October 2019, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's co-founder who spent eight years in Pakistani custody until 2018, led a delegation to Islamabad ahead of a deal the insurgents signed in February with Washington.

Islamabad has said its influence over the Taliban encouraged the militants to join talks with the US.

Tensions remain high between Islamabad and Kabul, with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani frequently lashing out at Islamabad for allegedly sheltering, funding and supplying the Taliban.

Pakistan, which was one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban regime in the 1990s, denies the claims.

On Sunday, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that Baradar and other negotiators would discuss "recent developments in Afghanistan's peace process, relaxation and facilitation of peoples' movement and trade between the two neighbouring countries."

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UN sanctions

Earlier, Pakistan approved several orders to implement UN sanctions against a number of outlawed groups, including the Taliban. 

The sanctions restrict travel, freeze assets, limit fund-raising and outlaws weapons sales. 

At the time, Shaheen said restrictions could hurt the peace process.

The UN has allowed travel for the purpose of peace negotiations but for a limited number of Taliban figures.

Baradar and Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the US-Taliban deal, signed the agreement on February 29. The deal has been touted as Afghanistan's best chance at peace in four decades.

The deal also sets conditions — all linked to Taliban commitment to fight terrorism — for the US troop pullout from Afghanistan, ending the longest US military engagement.

US troops have begun withdrawing and by November, less than 5,000 American soldiers are expected to still be in Afghanistan, down from 13,000 when the deal was signed.

Deadlocked over prisoner releases

The Kabul government and the Taliban are deadlocked over outstanding prisoner releases. 

Kabul insists the Taliban free 22 Afghan commandos they hold captive while the Taliban demand the release of a final 320 Taliban prisoners held in Afghan jails.

The release of the remaining prisoners was approved by a traditional Afghan council or Loya Jirga called by Ashraf Ghani earlier this month. The council approved the immediate release of the prisoners but later the government announced the Taliban were still holding Afghan soldiers and halted freeing the Taliban.

It is not clear how Pakistan could break the impasse. Both Kabul and Washington would want to see a reduction in violence going into the talks.

The Taliban have held to their promise not to attack US and NATO troops but have been staging near-daily attacks on Afghan government forces. They say a permanent ceasefire will be part of the negotiations once they begin.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies