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Taliban delegation in Pakistan to talk Afghan peace

People attend a rally in Afghan capital Kabul on Nov. 12, 2018. Hundreds of protestors staged a peaceful rally in Kabul and gathered in front of Presidential Palace on Monday calling upon the president to take immediate action against attacking militants in Jaghori and Malestan districts of the eastern Ghazni province. (/Rahmat Alizadah/Xinhua/Sipa USA)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A Taliban political team arrived in Pakistan on August 24 amid ongoing efforts to start negotiations between the Afghan government and the militants.

The talks, envisaged under a landmark peace agreement signed in February between Washington and the Taliban, had been expected to start earlier this month but were stymied by a series of delays.

The militants’ delegation, headed by Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, will discuss with Pakistan’s leaders the “recent developments in Afghanistan’s peace process,” according to a tweet by Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban political office.

Shaheen added that the “relaxation and facilitation of people’s movement and trade between the two neighboring countries” will also be on the agenda.

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The visit comes a day after the Taliban chief announced a beefed up negotiating team that includes nearly half of the Taliban leadership council and has the power to set agendas, decide strategy, and even sign agreements with the Kabul government.

That Taliban team is headed by the militants’ chief negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai.

Pakistan earlier gave the go-ahead to implement UN sanctions against a number of outlawed groups, including the Taliban.

The sanctions restrict travel, freeze assets, limit fundraising, and outlaw weapons sales. The UN has allowed travel for the purpose of peace negotiations but for a limited number of Taliban figures.

Baradar, who is on the sanctions list, spent eight years in jail in Pakistan until his release in 2018.

Baradar and U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the U.S.-Taliban deal, signed the agreement on February 29.

The Afghan government and the Taliban are deadlocked over outstanding prisoner releases. Kabul wants the Taliban to 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 Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier this month but the government later said the Taliban were still holding Afghan soldiers and halted freeing the Taliban.