The Afghan government-backed High Peace Council opposes ‘tough pre-conditions’ for talks with the Taliban and urges the government and Taliban to show flexibility in order to bring the stalled Qatar process back on track, a top negotiator said on Sunday.
The remarks came weeks after the closure of the Taliban office in Qatar following a row with the Afghan government over the use of the flag and a plaque bearing the name of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the name the Taliban used when they were in power.
President Hamid Karzai refused to send the peace council members to Qatar as he considered the flag and the plaque promoted the office as an embassy of a government in exile. Taliban closed the office following the Qatari officials’ decision to lower the flag and remove the signboard of the Islamic Emirate.
The top Taliban leadership now says they will not talk in Qatar until they are allowed to display the flag and plaque at the office once again, a Taliban official told The Express Tribune.
In order to revive the dialogue process, the Afghan High Peace Council, is now calling upon the Afghan government and the Taliban to give up these conditions before the talks are to be started.
“There should be no tough pre-conditions from any side and let the peace talks started first,” Maulvi Shehzada Shahid, spokesman for Afghan High Peace Council, told The Express Tribune.
“We want both sides to show flexibility,” Shahid said in an interview about the prospects of the resumption of the Qatar peace process.
He maintained the Afghan government and the Taliban can share their conditions, demands and proposals when they first sit together. He said the peace council has started efforts in and outside Afghanistan for the opening of the Taliban office.
“We are talking to all sides who have influence on the Taliban,” he said, without naming any quarters.
To a question about Pakistan’s role in the peace process, Shahid said the peace council is in contact with Islamabad.
“We want Pakistan to free all Taliban prisoners, including [Mullah Omar’s deputy] Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar… that will be a big push to the reconciliation,’ the peace council member said.
“I am hopeful that Pakistan will cooperate as Pakistan and the whole world is interested in Afghan peace,” he went on to say.
Shaid said Afghans have attached high hopes to the upcoming visit of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad as the talks could be helpful in the reconciliation process.
Karzai is likely to visit Pakistan this month and both sides are working on dates. According to official and diplomatic sources both countries have already proposed some dates. No final decision, however, has been made yet.
Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Musazai too stressed Pakistan has a key role in the Afghan peace process.
“The Taliban leadership is still based in Pakistan… [as such] we want Pakistan to extend support to the Afghan peace process and facilitate direct contact between the peace council and authorised Taliban representatives.,” he said. He also urged Pakistan to provide safe passage to Taliban leaders who are prepared to engage the Afghan government in direct negotiations.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2013.