The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says Afghanistan is getting closer to holding peace talks with the Taliban as a result of a new Afghan strategy put in place by the United States last year.
The remarks by Ambassador Nikki Haley at the UN in New York City on January 17 came amid reports that Taliban negotiators held exploratory talks on resuming peace negotiations during a visit to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, this week.
"We are seeing that we're closer to talks with the Taliban and the peace process than we've seen before," Haley said, briefing reporters after taking part in a weekend visit to Kabul by 15 members of the UN Security Council.
Haley said Afghan officials told the UN envoys that "they're starting to see the Taliban concede; they are starting to see them move toward coming to the table" as a result of a new strategy the United States put in place last summer that has given the U.S. military a freer hand to work with Afghan forces to defeat the Taliban.
"They feel confident that the Taliban will be coming to the table," Haley said. "The U.S. policy on Afghanistan is working."
"We really are going to work toward a peace process, with the goal being that we do not want Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorism anymore," she said.
Haley said Afghanistan's leaders asked the UN Security Council members to support the peace process and military gains in Afghanistan by putting more pressure on Pakistan to stop providing what they said were sanctuaries for the Afghan Taliban on its territory.
"They did ask us for consensus to put further pressure on Pakistan to come to the table and change their behavior," Haley said.
"As long as they are supporting terrorism in Pakistan, the Afghan community is continuing to feel it is not safe," she said. Pakistan denies providing sanctuary for the Taliban.
Haley did not specify what measures the UN Security Council could take to pressure Pakistan, but it does have the power to impose sanctions. The United States recently froze payments of military aid to Pakistan, citing its alleged failure to act against militants.
Kazakhstan's UN Ambassador Kairat Umarov, the current UN Security Council president who led the visit to Kabul, said members expressed concerned about "the persistence of insecurity, especially with the intensification of terrorist activities in the north and east of Afghanistan, and the regrouping of foreign terrorist fighters coming out of Syria and Iraq in Afghanistan."
But he said "the message of the Afghan government was very reassuring from the point of view of continuing efforts to find the peaceful resolution to all the outstanding issues."
The UN visit to Kabul came as a delegation of Taliban negotiators based in Qatar visited Islamabad to discuss restarting peace negotiations, media reported on January 17.
Reuters reported that a second back-channel meeting occurred over the weekend in Turkey, where it said individuals with Taliban connections met with representatives of Hizb-i Islami, the party of a former Taliban-allied commander who last year laid down arms to join Afghan politics.
Both sides officially denied holding any talks. But Reuters reported that the Taliban's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, who it said is widely believed to be hiding in Pakistan, ordered the exploratory talks in both Turkey and Islamabad.
Reuters reported that the Taliban's Haqqani network last week released 14 captured Afghan Army soldiers in the eastern province of Paktia as a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks.
With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters