Senior Afghan officials and Taliban representatives held face-to-face talks in Islamabad late Tuesday night, marking the first round of serious negotiations brokered by Pakistan to strike an elusive peace deal aimed at bringing about an end to the more than decade-long conflict in Afghanistan.
The crucial talks — the first formal contact between the two sides since President Ashraf Ghani took charge in Afghanistan in September last year — took place at an undisclosed location in Pakistan’s federal capital.
Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai — the nephew of President Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai — was said to be leading the government delegation in the talks which are being attended by all factions of the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, a senior security official told The Express Tribune. Senior officials of Pakistan’s Foreign Office and security establishment also attended the first round of negotiations, he said.
“This is the first-ever direct contact between the Afghan government and all factions of the Taliban,” revealed the official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. “The meeting shows that Pakistan is genuinely interested in an Afghan peace deal,” he said.
When asked about the possible outcome of talks, the official cautioned that it was a complicated process and that “we should not expect results overnight.” FO Spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah said he had no information about the talks when contacted.
Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace, however, confirmed that a four-member delegation of the High Peace Council is visiting Islamabad for talks with the Taliban. Three Taliban leaders are taking part in the talks, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Zafar Hashmi told reporters in the Afghan capital.
Sources in Afghanistan said the four-member peace council delegation is part of Hekmat Karzai’s entourage and arrived in Islamabad with the deputy foreign minister on Monday.
“The delegation being led by Hekmat Karzai includes Haji Din Muhammad and other members of the High Peace Council as well as the advisers of both President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah,” a senior Pakistani government official confirmed.
Diplomatic sources said the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan had agreed to keep the visit under wraps until Tuesday. They added that the Hekmat Karzai-led delegation “remained busy in talks over the past two days and will likely continue the talks on Wednesday (today)” as well.
The spokesman for the Afghan Taliban neither confirmed nor denied that the talks took place. “I do not have any information [yet]. I will share if there is any,” Zabihullah Mujahid said.
However, the senior Pakistani official said that representatives of both sides had been fully sanctioned and authorised by their respective leaderships.
He added that all friendly countries and stakeholders were supporting the peace process and that Pakistan in particular was playing a special role in this regard. “Pakistan and Afghanistan need peace and both countries are aware of this fact. Pakistan has high stakes in peace in Afghanistan, which is why we are facilitating the process.”
The Islamabad talks are thought to be the follow-up to the peace talks held in Urumqi, China in May, which, according to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s adviser Sartaj Aziz, were also facilitated by Pakistan. While addressing a parliamentary panel, Aziz had signaled that a second meeting would be held soon.
The Taliban office in Qatar had distanced itself from the Urumqi talks. It is not yet clear whether it is involved in the negotiations taking place in Islamabad.
Confusion also prevails over the identities of Taliban leaders involved in the Islamabad talks. Senior Taliban leaders who have been recently involved in the talks include Mullah Jalil, Mullah Hasan and Abdul Razaq. They had reportedly attended the previous meeting in Urumqi.
Another senior leader Mullah Abbas is also believed to have taken part in the Islamabad talks. However, Taliban and Pakistani officials have not confirmed names of the Taliban participants.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2015.