Peace with Taliban: Afghan leaders push for talks

Published: November 7, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Top Afghan political leaders sprung into action to broker peace talks between the government in Kabul and Taliban, a leader involved in the process said on Sunday.

Sayed Ishaq Gailani, a former MP and leader of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan, said that politicians were in contact with the Taliban office in Qatar and there would be more such interactions.

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Speaking with The Express Tribune from Kabul over phone, Gailani, however, expressed disappointment at what he termed ‘lukewarm’ response by the dual-headed National Unity Government in this regard. The initiative is important after confusion prevailed about a recent meeting between representatives of the Afghan government, Taliban and the United States. Taliban denied the reports while Kabul avoided publicly confirming the meeting. But some Taliban leaders did not rule out the possibility of an informal interaction in Qatar.

An Afghan official in Kabul had earlier confirmed last month that a meeting took place between the Afghan spy chief, Masoom Stanekzai, and Mullah Abdul Manan, Mullah Omar’s brother, in Qatar.

Leaders taking part in the initiative include uncle of President Ashraf Ghani Qayyum Kochi, former prime minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, former ministers Omar Daudzai and Anwarul Haq Ahadi and former member of Afghan parliament Haji Farid and Zaman Muzamil.

Gailani said they were trying to muster support of other leaders to strengthen their efforts and encourage both sides to hold peace talks.

He said that nearly 15 political and former Mujahideen leaders were part of the move.

“We held interactions with Taliban. The government is not yet cooperating with us, but we will continue our efforts,” Gailani said.

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Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid declined to comment.

A Taliban official, however, said their leaders “will welcome the move if these efforts are aimed at ending the foreign invasion”.

The Express Tribune learnt that political leaders also approached China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for a possible venue for talks if they are able to persuade the Afghan government and Taliban in this regard. Another source familiar with the initiative told The Express Tribune that Turkey expressed its inability to host such talks in view of the post-coup situation.

China, he said, was in contact with the Qatar-based Taliban representatives.

Saudi Arabia has so far been ineffective on the Afghan front. Political analysts in Afghanistan believe the success of the peace process mainly depended on the Afghan government and the United States.

Ahmadullah Ahmadzai, who regularly writes for the Afghan media, argued that the government did not “appear to be willing” to hold a dialogue with Taliban.

“There is confusion within government circles. Ministers seem divided on the issue of peace negotiations. Some are (clearly) opposing the talks. I do not think the efforts by political leaders would yield results unless Kabul and Washington shift focus to the political process,” Ahmadzai told The Express Tribune on Sunday.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2016.

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