President Ghani welcomes Taliban leader’s peace move
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday praised the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar for his formal approval of the Pakistan-brokered Murree peace process and said Taliban were willing to integrate into the system.
Mullah Omar backed the peace talks with the Afghan government in his traditional ‘Eid message’ this week that could herald the start of the formal dialogue. His comments that Islam does not ban “peaceful interaction” with enemies have also removed suspicions about the authorisation with which Taliban representatives sat in the first face-to-face meeting with Afghan government negotiators in 14 years.
The Taliban had earlier refused to talk to the administration in Kabul in the presence of “invading troops” and based on their understanding that the Afghan rulers had no powers to take any independent decisions. Participation in the talks marks a major shift in the Taliban policy.
The Taliban supremo’s backing of what he called the “legitimate” way of achieving the objective of ending occupation by foreign forces is expected to give a boost to reconciliation efforts.
Mullah Omar’s whereabouts have been unknown since 2001 but he still enjoys complete control over Taliban affairs, say senior Taliban leaders.
His positive comments have encouraged Afghan leaders and Ghani praised the Taliban leader at his Eid prayer speech at the Presidential Palace.
“I welcome the remarks of the Taliban leader who has described talks as a solution to the problem,” Ghani told senior Afghan leaders, including his predecessor Hamid Karzai who joined the president for Eid prayers.
“The Taliban’s issue is different. They want to join the system and if they have some problems those would be resolved through talks,” Ghani said in his remarks, according to Afghan media.
In earlier remarks, the Afghan president had indicated the second round of talks could be held in a few weeks, and had asked the Taliban leadership to come up with demands and conditions in writing.
Trifecta of demands
The Taliban have three initial and major demands: A timeframe for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, release of prisoners and removal of names of senior leaders from UN sanction lists.
A Taliban source privy to the Murree talks said the delegates had briefly mentioned the demands and they will be formally presented as the process moves forward.
The Afghan High Peace Council, which is mandated to hold talks with armed opponents, has also welcomed the Taliban supremo’s message. The body was established in 2010 and is mandated to negotiate with Taliban elements.
“Mullah Omar has not dismissed the process. This is a major change in Taliban’s approach. It seems the Taliban will now push forward the peace process,” council member Habibollah Fawzi told the Afghan media.
Although Mullah Omar has reiterated the role of the Taliban office in Qatar, he has not barred other leaders from pursuing political affairs.
For the negotiations to move forward, smoothly intervention in the Qatar office will not be a wise decision and Kabul should also withdraw its objection of the office.
Taliban have repeatedly stated the office does not mean it is an embassy but a “specific address” where the world community can contact them. The office was closed in 2013 just days after its opening in view of objections by then president Hamid Karzai.
With the Taliban giving their nod to the Pakistani-brokered talks, other stakeholders such as Gudbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, the second largest resistance movement, should be included to make the peace process broad-based and impactful.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2015.