Latest peace overtures indicate Afghan Taliban’s change of heart

Published: February 15, 2014

Latest peace overtures indicate Afghan Taliban’s change of heart. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: 

In a sudden shift from their earlier stance, dozens of senior Afghan Taliban leaders have decided to hold a dialogue with President Hamid Karzai to reach a political solution for Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops by the year’s end.

Agha Jan Mutasim, who served as the finance minister in the Taliban cabinet and is a former close aide of Mullah Omar, organised a meeting of senior Taliban leaders in UAE this week. Speaking to The Express Tribune on Friday via phone from Dubai, Mutasim said he will soon announce a specific address for intra-Afghan dialogue to avoid a civil war after Nato troops leave the country.

In remarks earlier this week, Mutasim claimed the Dubai meeting was attended by former Taliban cabinet ministers, four senior diplomats and top military commanders who had been involved in fighting foreign forces.

Mutasim declined to divulge their names citing security concerns. “They are very important personalities and I will not disclose their names as it could put their lives at risk,” he added, when asked to reveal names of the participants.

He, however, said he will soon announce names of negotiators for intra-Afghan dialogue, adding they will not hold talks with foreigners in the first phase and will only do so after Afghans are united over the future of the their country.

Mutasim, who had been shot and injured in Karachi in 2010, and later shifted to Turkey, had returned to Dubai to launch his political activities and efforts to encourage Taliban leaders to join his peace move.

The initiative coincides with the trilateral summit in Ankara where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his support for the Afghan peace process at a joint news conference with President Karzai and Turkish leaders.

It is not yet clear if Pakistan is behind the latest move. However, it seems Pakistani leaders are aware of the development as Prime Minister’s security adviser Sartaj Aziz said in Islamabad this week that President Karzai is in informal contact with some Taliban leaders.

Pakistani officials have admitted to facilitating the Qatar process that faced deadlock days after the Taliban opened their office in Doha in June last year. Afghan officials had earlier been upset at Islamabad’s inability to encourage Taliban leaders, whom they claim live in Pakistan.

The Afghan Taliban have evaded comments on the latest move and their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Express Tribune via email that he is “unaware of any such thing.” Mutasim had issued a three-page statement after the UAE meeting and also spoke to the media, but Mujahid did not offer any of his input. The Taliban have neither publicly disowned nor backed the latest initiative. This is the first time a senior Taliban leader has publicly announced to hold talks with the Karzai regime and begin the intra-Afghan dialogue. It will be premature to expect much from this process, but it could win support in and outside Afghanistan in view of the drawdown.

Mutasim had said earlier they had taken cue from Pakistan after authorities here began negotiating with the Taliban following several years of conflict and peace agreements.

In a statement sent to The Express Tribune on Friday, the Dubai-based Taliban leaders stated: “If we want our country to remain free from foreign domination, we have to launch an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue immediately.”

The Dubai initiative could be a message for the Afghan Taliban leadership to avoid any rift that could weaken them further as they must know that durable peace can only be restored in war-ravaged Afghanistan by Afghans themselves.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2014.

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