Afghan President Hamid Karzai has won Saudi Arabia’s support for the reconciliation process with the Taliban, an Afghan diplomat in Islamabad told The Express Tribune on Monday.
Last weekend, Karzai made a crucial visit to Riyadh where he met King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi intelligence chief and other officials. The president sought the country’s support to encourage the Taliban to join the peace process and come to the negotiation table.
The reconciliation process has failed to achieve much success so far. Afghan officials have admitted that the joint commission of Pakistan and Afghanistan for peace and reconciliation and the Afghan High Peace Council have made no progress to convince the Taliban leaders to join the peace process. The Taliban-US talks are also reportedly on a deadlock as disclosure to the media about the talks has annoyed the Taliban leadership.
Hizb-e-Islami’s (Gulbudin Hekmatyar Group) head of political affairs, Dr Ghairat Baheer, is also said to be in Saudi Arabia to discuss the country’s support in the reconciliation process. A spokesperson for Hizb-e-Islami confirmed Baheer’s visit to The Express Tribune, but avoided further comments.
Afghan sources told The Express Tribune that Saudi Arabia had invited several Afghan leaders mainly for Umrah, but the visit provided an opportunity to Afghans to share proposals for the reconciliation process.
There are reports that some Taliban leaders were invited by the Saudi government during the time President Karzai was visiting the country.
However, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid denied that the Taliban leaders ever visited Saudi Arabia. “These are just rumours,” was the short response by Mujahid when his reaction was sought via email.
The Afghan diplomat, who requested not to be identified, said that the Afghan president in his meeting with King Abdullah sought Saudi help in the ‘urgently needed’ reconciliation efforts to end more bloodshed.
He also confirmed meetings between the Afghan delegates and top Saudi intelligence officials, who had been deeply involved in Afghanistan for years.
On Sunday, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Janan Muszai confirmed to reporters in Kabul that reconciliation with the Taliban was discussed during Karzai’s talks with Saudi leaders. He avoided, but did not deny, reports that Taliban representatives had been in Saudi Arabia at the same time.
The head of the Afghan government’s Media and Information Centre, Dr Abdolhakim Asher, said in Kabul that the main issues discussed between President Karzai and the Saudi king were reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan.
The development coincides with Taliban supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar’s Eid message. Contrary to his previous statements, Mullah Omar softened his stand on the possibility of having talks. In his message, the Taliban leader reiterated his calls for withdrawing foreign troops to resolve the issue and admitted to talks between Taliban and what he called ‘parties for the release of prisoners’.
An Afghan analyst Syed Hossein Alemi Balkhi said in Kabul during a TV debate that in the past Saudi Arabia was reluctant to cooperate because of the presence of Osama bin Laden and his relations with the Taliban. However, with the killing of the al Qaeda chief on May 2, Riyadh is more inclined to cooperate towards the peace process in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2011.