ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has urged the Afghan Taliban to scale down violence and join the peace reconciliation process in a recent high-level contact with senior insurgent leaders, sources told The Express Tribune on Sunday.
Pakistan’s call came at a time when the Taliban are preparing for their Spring Offensive (fighting season) while Afghan government forces are readying for a counter offensive.
Former Taliban minister Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim said in an earlier interview that this year’s fighting would be ‘intense’ as the militia has “strengthened its hold over many areas this winter”. The Taliban overran the strategic Sangin district in southern Helmand province on Thursday in what appears to be a serious setback for the Afghan forces.
Pakistan is encouraging the Taliban to join the peace process at a time when Russia is pushing ahead with a regional peace initiative to promote political process in Afghanistan with the involvement of key players, including Pakistan.
The United States has decided to stay away from the April 14-15 meeting in Moscow – much to the surprise of many. According to Interfax news agency, the Russian foreign ministry on Friday regretted the US refusal to attend the informal consultations. Pakistan’s participation in the meeting will be at the director-general level.
Russian Foreign Ministry’s Director of the Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov will host the meeting that is expected to be attended by four Central Asian states for the first time.
The Express Tribune has learnt that Taliban leaders have started consultations at the highest level on how to respond to Pakistan’s call to scale down violence. However, Taliban sources insist they ‘cannot stop’ the insurgency in the face of “foreign invaders and [hostile] Kabul administration as its forces could [set a] trap”.
“With the latest interaction, Pakistan also wanted to know about the approach of the Taliban leaders towards the political process,” a source told The Express Tribune.
Pakistan is aware of the approach of the Qatar-based Taliban political representatives, some of whom had visited Pakistan in October last year as part of their contacts with other countries. Taliban political envoys also visited China in January this year and Beijing was also anxious to see the Taliban holding direct talks with the Afghan government.
Russia floated the idea last month to “bring Taliban negotiators to the process”, but no invitation has yet been extended to the Taliban.
Kabul had initially opposed the idea to invite the Taliban to the process, doubting Moscow’s growing contacts with the Taliban. However, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar came up with positive remarks about Russia’s role after they visited Moscow this month.
Taliban sources also confirmed that until March 26, they had not received any invitation. A Taliban leader earlier stated that the group would be ‘positive’ if formally invited to the Russian-led process.
Sources said Taliban leaders took advantage of their meeting to “convey concerns at Pakistan’s policy of closing border with Afghanistan and mistreatment of refugees”. They also called for the release of Taliban prisoners detained in Pakistan.