Afghan reconciliation: Saudis spring into action in face of US-Taliban impasse

Published: August 24, 2012

Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami delegation visit Saudi Arabia to hold talks with kingdom officials. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

ISLAMABAD: 

Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich kingdom which was earlier reluctant to play a supportive role in Afghan peace talks unless the Taliban disassociated itself from al Qaeda, has recently held a series of ‘informal talks’ with the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami (HI) leaders.

Afghan and Arab diplomats confirmed to The Express Tribune that the kingdom has invited several Taliban leaders, including some who had been involved in talks with the US in Qatar, to seek proposals as to how the country should participate effectively in the reconciliation process.

A Taliban delegation led by former Afghan consul-general in Peshawar, Maulvi Najibullah, and a three-member Hizb-e-Islami delegation led by Dr Ghairat Baheer, in charge of political affairs of Hizb-e-Islami, recently visited Saudi Arabia to hold informal talks with kingdom officials, diplomats familiar with the talks said, requesting anonymity.

Shahabuddin Dilawar, a senior Taliban leader in the Qatar talks, and Khalil Haqqani, brother of Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, also visited the kingdom last week at the behest of the Saudi government, the diplomats added.

Saudi authorities have also extended invitations to other Taliban leaders, former Taliban officials and Haqqani network leaders in the coming days to accelerate the peace process, the diplomats said. A Taliban leader also confirmed the invitations when contacted by The Express Tribune.

The list of invitees include Tayyeb Agha, a close confidant of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and head of the Taliban negotiation team in Qatar, Naseeruddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani and the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani and Agha Jan Mutasim, the former head of the powerful Taliban Political Affairs.

Afghan sources told this correspondent that Mutasim, who was shot and critically injured in Karachi in August last year, is now encouraging other Taliban leaders to discuss peace through an intra-Afghan dialogue. Mutasim, who is currently residing in Turkey, recently met some Taliban leaders in the United Arab Emirates and is due to visit Saudi Arabia soon to offer his services for reconciliation talks, Afghan sources added.

An Afghan official, privy to the Saudi initiative, told The Express Tribune, that Saudi officials had decided to play an active role in the Afghan reconciliation process after the US sought the kingdom’s assistance in reviving talks with the Taliban.

Another Afghan diplomat said Pakistan and Afghanistan had also approached the Saudis to encourage the Taliban to join the peace process.

Earlier in February, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had reached an understanding to formally seek Saudi help in the peace process during his talks with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad, an official, who had been part of the Afghan delegation, told The Express Tribune.

In July, Salahuddin Rabbani, the chairman of the High Peace Council, visited Saudi Arabia and met the intelligence chief to seek assurances in the peace process, an Afghan official said. Rabbani had also met officials of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah.

Afghan and Arab diplomats are confident that the kingdom will step up efforts to bring the Taliban and other armed opposition groups on the table for reconciliation talks. Saudi, Pakistani and Afghan authorities were never keen on Qatar’s initiative to host the Afghan peace talks, but the US and Taliban had preferred the neutral destination.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2012.

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