A two-member Afghan Taliban delegation, led by the head of the group’s political office in Qatar, paid a secret visit to Pakistan last week as part of preparations for the formal resumption of direct talks with the Afghan government, official sources revealed to The Express Tribune on Friday.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, who is heading the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, and Qari Din Muhammad travelled to Islamabad the same day when senior officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States held talks to finalise the roadmap for the Afghan reconciliation process.
The meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) was held on February 6 during which a tentative date was picked for the resumption of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The Taliban team, according to sources, held informal discussions with senior officials of the four countries, which are part of the quadrilateral process. However, there was no official confirmation of the Taliban delegation’s visit by either side.
One source claimed that the Afghan Taliban reportedly shared a list of their representatives who would attend the formal talks. They also discussed confidence-building measures for creating an environment conducive to the resumption of talks.
This is the first time that Taliban’s Qatar office is taking part in the peace initiative backed by both China and the US.
When first-ever direct talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government took place in July last year in Pakistan, the Taliban’s political office in Qatar distanced itself from the process.
It was because the then head of Taliban’s political office Sayed Tayab Agha was against the peace process brokered by Pakistan.
Tayab Agha, however, resigned after Mullah Akhtar Mansoor took over as head of the insurgent group following the confirmation of the death of Mullah Omar.
Mansur then appointed Abbas Stanekzai to succeed Tayab Agha. Since Stanekazi is in favour of peace talks, his appointment means that now the Taliban’s Qatar office will have a central role in the peace talks.
A Pakistani official with knowledge of back channel activities said the visit of the Taliban delegation is clear proof that “we are walking the talk.”
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, said formal talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are likely to resume within days. Officials from Pakistan, China and the US will also attend the crucial parleys.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s new ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, met army chief General Raheel Sharif at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Friday.
According to a statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations, “matters of mutual interest including measures to improve security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were discussed” at the meeting.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2016.