Edging closer: Taliban insurgents drop precondition for peace talks

Published: January 4, 2012

" We’ve been consistently saying that the United States will never achieve its goal of militarily subjugating the Afghans," Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid. PHOTO: EXPRESS/ FILE

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: 

Taliban insurgents announced a major policy shift on Tuesday, dropping their insistence on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan as a precondition for possible peace talks.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name that the militia prefers to be identified by, confirmed on Tuesday that it has reached an ‘initial agreement’ to open a ‘political office’ overseas, possibly in the Gulf state of Qatar, for peace dialogue.

“We’re now prepared to have a political office outside (Afghanistan) for negotiations with the Afghans (read: Afghan government). And as part of this we have reached an initial agreement with relevant sides, including Qatar,” said Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid in a Pashto-language statement emailed to The Express Tribune on Tuesday.

It’s the first time the militia, which was ousted from power in 2001, has raised the prospect of a negotiated settlement to the decade-long insurgency in Afghanistan. But Mujahid sought to downplay the shift in their policy vis-à-vis peace talks.

“We’ve been consistently saying that the United States will never achieve its goal of militarily subjugating the Afghans,” he said and added that the ‘Islamic Emirate’ believes in a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Though the statement didn’t say that US officials would also be part of peace talks, it at least confirmed the “United States and its Western allies as a party in the Afghan conflict.” The drawdown of foreign forces is already under way and Western nations plan to pull out all their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Mujahid insisted that the Afghan nation should be allowed to form an Islamic state of their own choosing – a ‘state that doesn’t harm anyone.’

He also called for the release of their prisoners from an infamous US detention centre. “The Islamic Emirate has also asked for the release of its prisoners from Guantanamo Bay,” he said.

Media reports said earlier that the US is considering the transfer of several high-profile Taliban prisoners into the Afghan government custody.

The Taliban statement rejected some media reports that negotiations with the US had begun, but The Express Tribune has learnt that discussions have been ongoing in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Tayyeb Agha, a close aide to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, and some senior Taliban leaders are said to be leading these talks which also involve the Haqqani network.

Lutfullah Mashal, the spokesperson for Afghan spy agency, National Directorate of Security, refused to comment on the latest development saying that only the Afghan foreign ministry was authorised to speak on the matter.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Janan Masozai wasn’t available for comment. President Hamid Karzai had earlier welcomed the move to open a ‘Taliban liaison office in Doha’ – though Saudi Arabia and Turkey were his preferred choices. Karzai however warned that no foreign power could get involved in the process without his government’s consent.

Arsala Rahmani, a senior member of Karzai’s High Peace Council welcomed the Taliban’s decision.  “It’s a gesture of good faith. It is important for the Taliban to negotiate with the international community, especially with the US and we welcome their decision to set up a political office,” Rahmani said.

In a parallel negotiation with the second major insurgents group, representatives of Gulbudin Hekmatyar, the powerful warlord and head of Hezb-e-Islami, met with President Karzai and US embassy officials in Kabul on Sunday.

Presidential spokesperson Aimal Faizi confirmed to the media that a Hezb delegation, led by its in charge of political affairs Dr Ghairat Baheer, met with Karzai “in a good atmosphere, and the results were good”.

Other members of the delegation were: Qutbuddin Hilal, member of Hezb’s central executive committee, and Mehmood Salah, head of the cultural and information section of the group.

Hezb spokesperson Haroon Zarghoon told The Express Tribune that the delegation travelled to Kabul on the invitation of Afghan and the US officials. Zarghon also said that his group was ready to hold dialogue with Kabul “even though we know that the real authority (for talks) rests with the United States.”

A palace official confirmed that the delegation also met with US officials following the meeting with President Karzai. “They met with Nato commander General Alan Jones and US Ambassador in Kabul Ryan C Crocker,” the official said, requesting his name not be mentioned in the report. Zarghoon, however, neither confirmed nor denied the meeting with US officials.

(Read: Seeking clarity within confusion)

Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2012.

Reader Comments (14)

  • Aceleaf
    Jan 4, 2012 - 6:07AM

    A terrorist will remain a terrorist. Their Qatar office means to replay a role of proxy for shiekhdoms.
    Their one eyed viel clad leader is a pick of regional destabilizers. One thing is certain, he has no bone to show his face. He has no place to hide except one…..

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  • Max
    Jan 4, 2012 - 6:33AM

    Now I understand what business Gen. Pasha had in Doha and what surprises he or his staff officers were talking at a press briefing at ISI offices.

    Recommend

  • Hasan Mehmood
    Jan 4, 2012 - 8:06AM

    There can be no negotiations with Taliban. Only surrender at their terms or their total elimination. They are too rigid. Remember the frantic efforts of Saudia / UAE / Pak Govts and their mentors JUI / ISI to drive some sense in them post 9/11. They preferred elimination from power but showed no flexibility.

    I can bet my last dollar that they will never ever agree to share power. Its against their DNA. Their philosophy is “MY WAY OR YOUR BODY ON HIGHWAY” Unfortunate but true.

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  • Ashraf P
    Jan 4, 2012 - 8:11AM

    This usually indicates that they’re in trouble. Despite all the publicity about the Taliban “winning” the war, there is no denying that their numbers are dwindling and their leaders and the rank and file are being taken out at an alarming rate. Their leadership is also in disarray and the different factions are no going at each other’s throats.

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  • MarkH
    Jan 4, 2012 - 8:25AM

    Considering how we’ve already seen claims of setting up preconditions, reaching new levels, being close to an agreement, a few factions randomly blow people up in contradicting cease fire claim areas, both sides say talks have never happened, one side says talks are happening and the other denies it… more just a couple times… It’s really hard to take it seriously.

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  • Kafka
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:23AM

    @Aceleaf: With due respect, a man fighting foreign forces in his homeland has always been called a freedom fighter. Afghan Taliban never planned or carried out any terror attack outside Afghanistan. Why are they being called terrorists. They are freedom fighters. They are all Afghans and we have no right to call them names. US has learnt that the hard way.

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  • YouKnowMe
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:34AM

    Next Step, Taliban to use Facebook and Twitter!!

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  • Noor
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:35AM

    Why should these Taliban trust Afghan Govt or US?

    Any guarantees? or they may exploit them once again.

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  • kala_bacha
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:37AM

    The Aghan’s now take refuge in Gulf state and will suck up the Emirates too. Now Gulf pays the same price in few years which Pakistan is paying for a decades. This is another American tactics to stay in the gulf but with name changes.

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  • frank
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:40AM

    Aceleaf > A terrorist will remain a terrorist

    Since when did fighting against the foriegn invaders and occupiers of your country make you a ‘terrorist’?

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Jan 4, 2012 - 10:44AM

    When Gen Pasha announced surprises to come, it was clear that the “family feud” is solved with the strategic assets. No surprises here, it is all within the family. Now the US military aid would start flowing after this achievement and soft control over strategic assets. Anything can be done with the right amount of money including NATO supplies, and taming the terrorists.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Jan 4, 2012 - 2:52PM

    @MarkH:
    Agree with your comments. Let us imagine that an agreement is reached but the million dollar question remains, whether the Taleban would honour its commitments.

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  • xxx
    Jan 4, 2012 - 4:06PM

    create a seperate state for them near the border of pakistan where they can have their own laws and rules and let them call that Islamic state of talibanistan. Rest of the area should be left alone as afghanistan.

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  • Hasan Mehmood
    Jan 4, 2012 - 9:45PM

    @xxx:
    {create a seperate state for them near the border of pakistan}
    and send all Taliban supporters / apologists etc to live there and practice Islamic Sharia to their hearts delight. Ask them not to leave their sisters / daughters behind. Recommend

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