Hours before representatives of the quadrilateral group were to assemble for another round of talks on the revival of the peace process in Kabul today, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif discussed the role of the Afghan Taliban’s office in Doha with Qatar’s leadership.
Earlier on Monday, General Raheel travelled to Doha for a day-long trip and held a series of meetings with top Qatari leadership including its Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Naseer bin Khalifa al Thani, as well as Qatar’s defence minister and army chief.
According to the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing, Monday’s meetings focussed on matters relating to regional security and enhanced bilateral defence cooperation.
“Facilitation of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan through the Qatar office was discussed in detail,” added the military’s media wing.
The fourth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) featuring Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US is set to open in the Afghan capital today.
A senior military official, while speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the army chief’s visit to Doha was part of Pakistan’s efforts to persuade all Taliban groups to return to the negotiating table.
The insurgent group’s office in Qatar has in the past opposed direct talks between the representatives of Afghan government and apparent representatives of Taliban. It has maintained that only the office has been empowered to hold talks.
In July 2015, Pakistan had brokered the first-ever direct meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But the then head of Qatar office Tayyab Agha distanced himself from the process. By August 2015, Agha had already withdrawn from the process, citing differences with new Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor who had succeeded former Taliban supremo Mullah Omar. Mansoor appointed his trusted aide Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai to head the political office in Qatar.
Stanekzai reportedly paid a secret visit to Islamabad earlier this month and held informal talks with the quadrilateral group to lay the groundwork for the resumption of talks.
“Unlike the previous round of talks, this time all Taliban groups are being pursued to come to the negotiating table,” the military official said.
The official revealed that Taliban’s splinter group, headed by Mullah Muhammad Rasool Akhund, has also been invited to join the negotiation process. Akhund had refused to pledge allegiance to Mansoor after it was revealed that Mullah Omar’s death had been kept hidden for nearly two years.
As Akhund formed his own faction, it was believed that hundreds of fighters from both sides were killed due to infighting. However, in January the two rival Taliban factions called for a truce -- in a move that could help pave the way for consensus within the insurgent groups for crucial peace talks.
Officials with knowledge of peace efforts claim that Mullah Mansoor’s group had been tasked by Pakistan to woo other Taliban factions to join the negotiations. The involvement of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami in the peace process is also being discussed by QCG countries.
Meanwhile, the ISPR said Qatar’s leadership acknowledged Pakistan’s role in bringing about regional stability and appreciated Pakistan Army’s efforts in countering terrorism and bringing peace in the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2016.
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