Following the green signal from the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Taliban are all set to formally announce opening of their ‘political office’ in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Simultaneously, several Afghan leaders have gathered in Saudi Arabia to keep the kingdom in the loop on the reconciliation process.
The Taliban, who have consistently denied backchannel talks with Western nations, agreed to open a ‘political office’ in Qatar following the December 5 Bonn Conference, said a source privy to the developments.
In a tactical somersault, the Karzai administration also welcomed the possible opening of a Taliban office in Qatar to facilitate the Afghan peace process.
Earlier this month the Afghan government had angrily reacted to the move in which it was not in the loop, recalling its ambassador from Qatar. Instead Karzai had favoured a Taliban office in Saudi Arabia or Turkey, if not in Kabul.
Tayyeb Agha, a close aide to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, former Taliban diplomats Shahabuddin Dilawar and Suhail Shaheen and a senior Taliban leader Sher Muhammad Stanekzai are said to be involved in talks with the Americans in Doha. And according to sources, there has been substantial progress in talks thus far.
The two sides are also discussing a possible release of top Taliban leaders from the Guantanamo detention centre as has been demanded by the Taliban leadership, sources said.
Those who are likely to be freed include former Taliban interior minister Maulvi Khairullah Khairkhwa, former Taliban commander for northern zone Nurullah Nuri, former Taliban intelligence officials Maulavi Wasiq and Muhammad Nabi Khosti, Haji Wali Muhammad, a trader accused of financing the Taliban regime through illegal money business and Taliban army chief Mullah Fazal.
As a quid pro quo, the Taliban will also make some important announcements.
Dr Ghairat Baheer, in-charge of political affairs of Hizb-e-Islami (Hekmatyar group), has also travelled to Saudi Arabia to join former Taliban leaders Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef and former Taliban foreign minister Maulvi Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, to update the kingdom on the peace process, an Afghan opposition leader told The Express Tribune. He claimed that Zaeef and Mutawakil are representing the Taliban in talks with Saudi officials.
The oil-rich kingdom is said to be unhappy with a Taliban office in Qatar and wants to be involved in the process.
The Haqqani factor
Nasiruddin, aka doctor, the elder son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the deadliest of all Taliban groups, is also accompanying the Taliban leaders in Doha, a highly credible source told The Express Tribune.
The United States blames the Haqqani network, which it believes is based in the North Waziristan tribal region, for stoking the Taliban insurgency and mounting some of the most high-profile attacks on the Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban sympathisers
A Pakistani religious leader, close to the Afghan Taliban, has credited some of his colleagues for the Qatar initiative. “Some Pakistani religious leaders managed to persuade the Taliban leaders to engage in talks with the United States,” he told The Express Tribune. However, he warned that Afghanistan would plunge into chaos if the Taliban were not given a ‘big role’ in any future set-up in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2011.