ISLAMABAD: Diplomatic efforts are under way amidst strong indications of imminent start of peace negotiations between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Acting US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Laura Miller has also arrived in Islamabad and diplomatic sources are linking her visit to the move. Miller met Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal and “discussed various issues,” the ambassador said on his official Twitter account.
The US Ambassador in Islamabad David Hale and Military Deputy to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Major General Judd H Lyons were also present in the meeting.
The US delegation arrived in Islamabad days after they met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul and discussed the situation in the region, Afghanistan and Pakistan ties and Miller’s work in this regard, Ghani’s office said.
The US envoy is visiting Pakistan at a time when a senior Taliban representative in Qatar political office told The Express Tribune in a recent interview that the Taliban leaders are “involved in internal discussions” to chalk out a strategy for possible political negotiations.
The diplomatic efforts have been intensified weeks after the Taliban political representatives wrapped up a visit to Pakistan in October. Pakistan and Taliban had confirmed the visit but avoided giving any details.
Some sources said Pakistan had “encouraged the Taliban negotiators to join the peace talks” like Hizb-e-Islami, which struck a peace deal with the Kabul administration in late September.
Adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz reiterated Pakistan’s support for the Hizb-Afghan govt agreement in his address at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar on Sunday.
The Amritsar Declaration also “commended the government of Afghanistan in successfully pursuing peace talks with Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar resulting in the signature of a peace agreement that sets a good precedent for future peace talks with all other armed groups.”
The declaration also “urged all Afghan Taliban groups and all other armed groups to enter into peace talks with the government of Afghanistan.”
The Heart of Asia conference also threw weight behind the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) plan to convene the International ‘Ulema Conference’ in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, with “inclusive representation of the Islamic countries and hope a positive outcome would contribute to lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
The conference was earlier scheduled to be held in October; however, it was postponed for unknown reasons. The Taliban had dismissed the Ulema conference as an intelligence plot.
Section of the Afghan media has reported that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) chief Tadamichi Yamamoto, recently travelled to Qatar to meet the Taliban representatives and discussed the UNAMA’s possible role in the peace talks.
The Taliban’s Qatar office last week invited Kabul-based journalists and political commentators for the first time since they opened office in 2013, in an apparent move to send some positive signals to the world community and Afghanistan about political process.
The Taliban officials told the delegation that the UN envoy would also visit them. The UNAMA has not offered any comment on the visit. The UN envoy met Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani in Kabul on Monday, a foreign ministry statement said.
Dr Faiz Mohammad Zalaand – a political analyst – quoted top Taliban negotiators Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilwar, Qari Deen Muhammad and Suhail Shaheen as saying that the Taliban gave priority to peace but no one in Kabul had any plan and strategy to begin talks.
“The Kabul uses the slogan of peace just as a tactic to prolong the war. The US is also playing a major role behind the curtain to keep on hostilities.
“The US has extended five billion dollars for continuation of the war. The US has never allocated any financial support for peace and has created hurdles for any progress for the peace process,” Dr Zalaand summed up.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2016.