Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, will appoint a high-level team for formal talks with the United States following progress in ‘exploratory talks’ with American officials in Qatar, a spokesman for the group said on Thursday.
Talking to The Express Tribune via phone, Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar, said that the Taliban team currently present in the Gulf state will only conduct preliminary talks with the US officials. He added that the key issues would be discussed during formal dialogue at a later stage.
Taliban sources say that nearly 30 Taliban representatives, including six members of the top leadership, are currently in Qatar. They include Syed Tayeb Agha (the head of the team), Qari Din Muhammad Hanif, Haji Muhammad Zahid Ahmadzai, Maulvi Nek Muhammad and Sher Muhammad Stankazai.
The Taliban spokesman said the group will hold talks with the US first since it is the major party to the conflict in the conflict in Afghanistan. The Taliban also seek to resolve certain other issues, such as the release of their members in US custody.
“We will ask for the immediate release of our prisoners … the Taliban are willing to discuss the exchange of the lone US soldier in our custody for the release of Taliban detainees,” Shaheen said, adding that the release of prisoners would build much confidence ahead of formal talks.
The Taliban captured US Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl in 2009.
Deadlock over prisoners is believed to be one of the reasons that led to the breakdown of the US-Taliban dialogue in Qatar in March last year.
Asked when the Taliban will talk to the Karzai-backed peace council, Shaheen said, “The time is not ripe for such talks,” and added it would happen later.
In reply to a question, he maintained no talks with the US were planned on Thursday as a section of the media had reported earlier.
“American officials have not contacted us for talks on Thursday,” the Taliban spokesman said. Asked when the preliminary talks would start, he said it was possible they could take place on Friday (today), the day after or within a week.
He, meanwhile, ruled out chances of a ceasefire to smooth the dialogue process, saying that the Taliban would retaliate as long as they were attacked by foreign forces in Afghanistan.
“It is not an easy enough issue to resolve in the first meeting,” said Shaheen.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.
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