ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai said on Monday that China had been urged to press Pakistan to make sincere efforts towards peace talks as he claimed face-to-face peace talks with the Taliban will start soon. But the claim was quickly dismissed by the Taliban as false.
Karzai did not give any date for the talks but claimed ‘progress’ in recent efforts for reconciliation with whom he termed “armed opponents”.
He added that the Afghan government is in the process of constituting a negotiation team, and a venue is being decided where talks could be held.
“Recently we have had success and in the near future direct talks will be held between Afghan government and the violent opposition,” the minister said at a seminar organised by the Center for Strategic Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan and the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Kabul.
“As we speak, the government is putting together an Afghan negotiation team and a venue is being decided on where to hold these talks.”
An Afghan official had earlier said that the venue will not be an issue and talks could be held anywhere. He said the talks could be held in Qatar, Pakistan, China, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as in any other country.
China urged to press Pakistan for efforts towards peace talks
The Afghan minister also highlighted the role of China in the peace process.
“China has been playing an important role in the peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. Since it enjoys close relations with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, we encourage China to ask Pakistan for its sincere efforts in bringing peace to Afghanistan,” said Karzai.
Taliban say no talks yet
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid rejected Karzai’s claim, saying there is no change in their policy of not talking to the Kabul administration.
“The remarks of Hekmat Karzai are not new as several leaders have offered similar comments. We consider all these statements baseless,” Mujahid told The Express Tribune over telephone from Afghanistan.
The Taliban political office in Qatar, which has been silent since its closure July 2013, too offered comment.
“The Islamic Emirate has not assigned responsibility to anyone for contacts with the Kabul administration,” the Taliban Qatar office said in a statement. The statement is softer than the one issued by Mujahid and indicates that the Qatar office may have started activities towards talks.
The Taliban, however, have never officially indicated their willingness to join the intra-Afghan dialogue.
“Representatives of the political office in Qatar have neither travelled to any country regarding peace talks nor discussed the issue,” the Qatar office insisted.
A Taliban official said that the Taliban Central ‘Shura’, or council, is currently debating the possible “positive and negative impact of holding or refusing talks” with Ghani’s government.
“Internal consultations may take some more time as the Taliban leadership is not in a hurry to take a decision,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
He also denied the impression of differences within the Taliban about the issue of negotiations while referring to a report that dialogue has been delayed due to the differences between the Taliban number-two Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, and the former military chief Abdul Qayyum Zakir.
Zakir, a former Guantanamo inmate, stepped down as military chief in April last year “because of health conditions”.
“He [Zakir] has no position since then,” the Taliban leader, who is contact with Zakir said.
“The central council is the only powerful body to take any decision,” the Taliban leader said, adding there is no pressure on the Taliban to hold talks with Kabul.