Lukewarm response from Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami for peace negotiations

Have reservations over ‘foreign interference’ in today’s talks


Tahir Khan February 23, 2016
PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD:


The Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami (HeI), the second largest resistance movement in Afghanistan, have given a lukewarm response to the diplomatic efforts for peace negotiations.


Announcing its reaction to the offer of talks, HeI said it would take part in the intra-Afghan dialogue only if there is no foreign interference in the process, casting doubts on its participation in the four-nation endeavour scheduled for Tuesday (today).

Taliban toughen stance on peace talks ahead of quadrilateral meeting

HeI chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, however, ‘appreciated’ Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s formal invitation for the peace talks, the movement’s political affairs head Ghairat Baheer told The Express Tribune.

Ghani had formally invited the Taliban and the HeI for talks during his speech in Kabul last week. The public invitation to the armed groups was in line with the four-nation process launched by Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States in December. The Express Tribune has learnt that the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, had delivered the invitation to the HeI on behalf of his government.

The movement issued a formal response to the dialogue offer after seeking Hekmatyar’s opinion. The HeI chief’s whereabouts have been unknown since 2001.

Meanwhile, Taliban sources with the organisation’s Qatar office also said they did not plan to join the talks “unless they get a positive response to their calls for certain steps ahead of the negotiations”.

The Taliban want reopening of their political office in Qatar, lifting of travel curbs on their leaders, release of their prisoners and end to ‘propaganda in Afghanistan’.

“If we join the dialogue without response to our calls, then we have serious concerns that the Islamic Emirate could face a split, as fighters in the battlefield would not accept such talks,” a Taliban leader told The Express Tribune.

He confirmed that the Qatar office had been contacted and invited for the talks but “we have made it clear that it would be difficult to join the talks in such a situation”.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid declined commenting on record about the quadrilateral meeting. According to Mujahid, the Qatar office had already clarified the position on the peace process last month at an unofficial meeting in Doha.

Head of the Taliban office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, had told the Pugwash conference that the organisation would not accept any foreign pressure, in a veiled reference to the four-nation effort.

“Peace should not be used as an instrument for achievement of one’s political, personal and party objectives. Unfortunately, foreigners and the Kabul administration are [now] engaged in these activities and do not have a real intention for peace,” he said without directly mentioning the quadrilateral process.

Zakhilwal had told The Express Tribune on Sunday that the four-nation process was against any pre-conditions, but said it would be a part of the talks if started.

HeI issued a five-point statement in response to the offer of dialogue that said it supported “the intra-Afghan dialogue as the only solution to the problem and that only Afghans could determine their future”.

Afghan Taliban demand prisoner release to rejoin peace talks

“The US should empower the Kabul government to find out a solution to the problem through intra-Afghan dialogue and without foreign interference,” Baheer quoted Hekmatyar as saying.

The Afghan foreign ministry said on Monday that today’s quadrilateral meeting would review progress on the roadmap agreed upon during a meeting in Islamabad on February 6.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd,  2016.

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