Kick-starting a nascent dialogue process, the head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) met with the Afghan Taliban representatives in Doha as part of efforts to seek a peaceful end to the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan.
The meeting between Maulana Fazlur Rehman – who was accompanied by a member of the National Assembly from the tribal areas, Haji Munir Khan Orakzai – and a group of Taliban representatives headed by Tayyab Agha took place at a farmhouse in the suburbs of Doha on Sunday, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Sources revealed that Agha, who is considered to be a close aide of Mullah Muhammad Omar, was assisted by Maulvi Shahabuddin Delawar in a first such direct meeting between representatives from Pakistan and the insurgent group.
An official privy to the development disclosed that at least a dozen Taliban representatives were currently in the Qatari capital to explore the possibility of opening their office. Their names, however, were not immediately available.
Though Rehman is currently in the opposition, the influential politician – who is known for having close ties with the Taliban – is believed to have been holding talks with the militants on behalf of Pakistan.
There is no official word from either side about the nature and the exact purpose of the talks in Doha.
However, an official familiar with the development said the JUI-F leader went to Doha as part of efforts by Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
He added that negotiations were also aimed at exploring ways of how Pakistan could become part of the Qatar initiative.
Last month, US President Barrack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai endorsed the opening of a Taliban office in a third country to facilitate the much-needed reconciliation process.
The US efforts in the past to set up such an office in Doha could not succeed due to opposition by both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But at a recent trilateral summit in UK, Islamabad also indicated that it might support the Qatar initiative.
In a joint statement issued after the London summit, Afghan President Karzai, President Asif Zardari and British Prime Minister David Cameron supported the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan High Peace Council.
Despite its apparent support, privately Pakistan voiced certain reservations over the proposed initiative.
One such concern includes the preconditions that the Karzai Administration intends to attach with the Qatar process. Karzai’s government wants that Doha office should only be used for negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan High Peace Council.
However, Pakistan insists that such preconditions could not ensure a “broad based all-inclusive reconciliation process”.
Despite differences, the official said that all stakeholders now appear to be on the same page in seeking a peace deal before the US-led foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“And Doha talks clearly reflect that urgency,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2013.