ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban on Wednesday confirmed a delegation is currently visiting Pakistan but said they are only discussing issues pertaining to refugees, the release of a senior leader and other prisoners.
Diplomatic sources had earlier told The Express Tribune that a three-member delegation from the Afghan Taliban’s political office in Qatar arrived in Islamabad on Monday to discuss the restarting of peace talks with Kabul.
Taliban’s Qatar office confirmed the visit; however, it did not say whether the leaders will discuss the peace process during their visit. “Since the Afghan people have close relations, long border and commercial transactions with neighbouring Pakistan and a large number of our countrymen are living there as refugees, therefore, the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate has decided to send a high level delegation to Islamabad,” the Taliban Qatar office said.
“The esteemed leader of Islamic Emirate has instructed the delegation to discuss issues regarding Afghan refugees, some problems about frontier areas and particularly to discuss the release of Mullah Bradar Akhund and some other prisoners,” it added.
Mullah Baradar, the former second-in-command in the Taliban hierarchy, was arrested in Karachi in 2010. The Taliban claim he is still in custody, however, Pakistan in 2013 said he had been released along with 50 other senior Taliban leaders on the request of then Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
A Taliban statement said the visit to Pakistan “would be in the interest of both countries and would have fruitful results.”
Afghan officials in Kabul had also stated they were aware of the visit but that no meeting with the Taliban delegation in Pakistan has been planned.
Some Pakistani officials had earlier stated that a meeting between the Taliban and the representatives of the Afghan government was scheduled in Islamabad on April 27; however, Afghan diplomatic sources said, “Kabul is not in the loop about the visit.”
Direct peace talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban began in Pakistan in July 2015 but were scrapped after the belated revelation that Mullah Omar, the group’s founder, had died two years earlier.
The disclosure sparked infighting within the militant group.
A four-member group comprising Afghanistan, the United States, China and Pakistan has been attempting since January to revive the talks. But the lack of progress has left many frustrated, as the Taliban ramp up their insurgency which began in 2001 after they were deposed from power by a US-led invasion.
Ghani angrily denounced Pakistan for failing to rein in the Taliban.
Islamabad recently admitted, after years of official denial, that the Taliban leadership enjoys safe haven inside Pakistan.
“I want to make it clear that we no longer expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table,” Ghani said in a sombre address to both houses of the Afghan parliament.
“But we want Pakistan to fulfil its promises… and take military action against their sanctuaries and leadership based on its soil. If they can’t target them they should hand them over to our judiciary.”
The Taliban have repeatedly said they will not negotiate until their demands are met, including the departure of 13,000 foreign soldiers deployed to train and advise their Afghan counterparts.
The April 19 bombing in Kabul, which also wounded nearly 350 people, was seen as the opening salvo in this year’s Taliban offensive — widely expected to be the bloodiest in 15 years.