Afghan peace process: Kabul in ‘preliminary contact’ with Taliban

Officials say Taliban amenable to China’s mediation; President Ghani hails initiative.


Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:


The administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has established ‘preliminary contacts’ with the Afghan Taliban in an ice-breaking move believed to have been facilitated by Pakistan.


A top government functionary familiar with the development told The Express Tribune on Friday that representatives of the Ghani administration were in contact with the insurgents to explore options for a possible peace deal.

However, it is premature to speculate at this stage about the success of the process, added the official who didn’t want to be identified in the report due to the sensitivity of the matter. “This is a very difficult path… this is only the beginning. We have finally managed to bring the two sides to the negotiating table,” he said.

The official would not confirm whether initial contacts were taking place in the Qatari capital of Doha where the Afghan Taliban had in the past established their ‘political office’ in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United States.

The Doha office was, however, closed down after the administration of then Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, objected to a plaque identifying the building as the office of ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ – a name the Taliban used for their regime before it was ousted by the United States and its allies in 2001.



This first direct contact between the President Ghani administration and the Taliban became possible after months of behind-the-scene efforts by Pakistan as well as China.

Another official said Pakistan played a ‘positive and constructive’ role in bringing the two sides to the negotiating table. But he made it clear that Islamabad’s role was strictly confined to facilitation. “We are doing whatever we can… it is up to the two sides to reach a final agreement,” he added.

The two sides are exploring options, including the venue for formal talks. Beijing, Dubai and Islamabad are considered for this purpose.

In an unprecedented statement the Pakistan military said on Thursday that it was ready to support “in all sincerity the Afghan reconciliation process”. However, it added that the process had to be transparent and that it had to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

Speaking at her weekly news briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam reiterated Pakistan’s stance that the it was for the Afghan government to lead efforts for reconciliation in the war-torn country.

“Pakistan… is ready to provide whatever assistance it can to facilitate the reconciliation process to the extent possible,” she added.

China willing to host talks

A senior Pakistani diplomat said China has offered to host the talks between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives. “The Afghan Taliban are ready to negotiate with the new government in Kabul, and China has expressed willingness to host such talks in Beijing,” the official told Daily Express.

“Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani is expected to visit Islamabad to coordinate efforts for restoring peace in Afghanistan,” said the official. Salahuddin is the son of Burhanuddin Rabbani, former president and head of the Afghan High Peace Council, who was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul in September 2011.

The official said that earlier the US had tried to broker peace between the Taliban and the Ghani administration, but the Taliban were not amenable to American mediation. He added that China was willing to host talks between the two sides and the Taliban have already warmed up to the offer. “A two-member Taliban delegation had paid a secret visit to Beijing in November 2014.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who visited Islamabad last week, voiced his country’s willingness to “continue to help the reconciliation process in Afghanistan”.

Meanwhile Afghan security officials told Reuters that Kabul had arrested and handed over several Uighur separatist militants from China’s restive Xinjiang region in an effort to persuade Beijing to use its influence with Pakistan to help start negotiations with the Taliban.

“We offered our hand in cooperation with China and in return we asked them to pressure Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban or at least bring them to the negotiating table,” said one of the security officials.

Kabul welcomes initiative

President Ghani welcomed Pakistan’s initiative to help in the reconciliation process. “The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan respects Pakistan’s recent efforts to pave the way for peace and reconciliation,” the presidential palace said in a statement.

“Pakistani and Afghan leaders have reached a conclusion to start joint efforts in view of threats and difficulties. The attacks on the Army Public School and Paktika’s Yahya Khel area have strengthened commitment in both countries to jointly fight against terrorism and extremism.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2015.

COMMENTS (1)

Pity | 6 years ago | Reply India is sure getting jittery with the developments in the Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.
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