The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday the group is awaiting a formal invitation for direct talks with officials of President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. A day earlier, the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group, which is composed of top officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States, said that Islamabad would host direct talks between Afghan government and Taliban representatives by first week of March.
“We’ve seen reports in the media about [direct] talks, but the Political Office and the Islamic Emirate have no information about this,” said Dr Muhammad Naeem, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s Political Office in Qatar.
The Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, endorsed Dr Naeem. “We’ve not received anything officially; we only heard it from the media,” he told The Express Tribune by phone.
President Ghani and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani had extended a formal invitation to Taliban groups and Hizb-e-Islami to come to the negotiating table. But the Taliban said they have not received any such invitation.
“Since we do not have any information, anything [comment] about our formal response to media reports will be premature,” Dr Naeem told The Express Tribune by phone from Doha.
Asked if the Afghan Taliban still insisted on their pre-conditions for talks, Dr Naeem said their demands were genuine. The group has called for reopening of their political office in Qatar; lifting of international sanctions on their top leaders; release of prisoners; and an end to propaganda in Afghanistan.
“These are not conditions. These are are realities, and problems could not be solved without this [meeting these demands],” Dr Naeem said.
He described the presence of ‘foreign invaders’ as the real problem and said the Taliban have always said that the basic solution to the problem was to an end to the invasion and enforcement of the Islamic system. He warmed that the situation could further complicate if the issue of invasion persisted.
Meanwhile, sources close to the Taliban’s Qatar office said the group’s political negotiators have expressed serious reservations over the use of the term ‘Taliban groups’ in the statements issued after Tuesday’s quadrilateral talks.
“If they [quadrilateral group] use ‘Taliban groups’ it means they want to create rifts in the ranks of the Islamic Emirate,” they said.
Further, the negotiators have reacted angrily to the ‘threatening posture’ adopted by some Afghan government leaders including fresh remarks by Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar. Atmar said on Wednesday that the “Taliban have limited time to take a decision on joining peace talks.”
Hizb-e-Islami considering invite
While the Taliban say they have not received an invite to the Islamabad talks, The Express Tribune has learnt that a formal invitation has been sent to Hizb chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is weighing up the offer.
“We are considering the offer,” Hizb’s political affairs head Dr Ghairat Baheer told The Express Tribune. Diplomatic sources revealed that Rabbani has spoken with Baheer and an invitation was extended.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2016.