ISLAMABAD: Serious efforts are under way to involve the Taliban office in Qatar in the nascent peace process as it is believed participation of the Taliban’s political negotiators could push the reconciliation process forward.
The Taliban office in the oil-rich Gulf state distanced itself from the maiden direct talks between a group of three Taliban leaders and a high-level delegation of the Afghan government in Murree on July 7.
With the world community welcoming the meeting, Kabul and Islamabad were quick to term it a “breakthrough”. However, a vast majority of the Taliban insist the process could only be considered legitimate if Taliban representatives, assigned for political affairs, formally become part of the process.
The Express Tribune has learnt that Pakistan has contacted the Qatar Taliban office and advised the negotiators to join the next round.
Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar told Tolo TV last week that the second round is likely to be held on July 30; however, there are no indications the Qatar representatives would join it.
Taliban sources say the Qatar representatives want complete ownership on the process as the outfit’s head, Sayed Tayyeb Agha, insists that Mullah Omar had authorised him to lead all political affairs, including talks with Afghans and the world community.
China, which had a seat at the Murree talks as an observer, is also using its contacts with the Qatar-based Taliban leaders to join the talks, a Taliban official said.
The Kabul-backed High Peace Council also wants Qatar’s Taliban representatives to expand the process.
Spokesman for the council, Maulvi Shehzada Shahid, said although the Taliban’s powerful leadership council has not opposed the peace talks, efforts should be made to bring the Qatar members to the negotiation table.
“We request the facilitators to involve the Qatar office in the talks to make the process broad-based. Those people should be included in the process who enjoy the trust of the Taliban,” Shahid told The Express Tribune from Kabul by phone on Friday.
He also suggested that a ceasefire should be on the agenda of the next meeting.
Afghan analysts also believe that the Pakistan-brokered talks could face serious challenges if the Qatar office was ignored.
Nazar Mutmaeen, a Kabul-based analyst who regularly writes on Taliban and security-related issues, says the peace process will have no legitimacy unless the Qatar office joins the negotiations.
“The Taliban political office had been vigorously involved in a series of recent unofficial talks with Afghan leaders in Qatar, Norway and UAE. It strongly indicates the Taliban political representatives could join the official process if their office is recognised,” Mutmaeen told The Express Tribune on Friday.
He said mediators and other stakeholders should give an opportunity to the Taliban leadership to take the military commanders and fighters into confidence. He also said the UN mission in Afghanistan should not be kept out of the talks.
A series of statements by the Taliban’s powerful leaders, including Mullah Omar, and commentaries on their official website since the first round of the Pakistan-brokered meeting underscored the role of the Qatar office. So it would be a wise step to keep the rare peace process alive with the participation of the Doha-based Taliban leaders.
Some Taliban sources have confided to The Express Tribune that the leaders --- Mullah Abbas Akhund, Abdul Lateef Mansoor and Haji Ibrahim Haqqani --- who represented them in Murree had only a “one-time permission” and are “no more entitled” to hold further talks.
A Taliban policy statement, issued just a day after the Murree talks, had reiterated the powers of the Qatar office.
That message was very clear for all those who are either playing the role of facilitators or observers in the reconciliation. They should first convince the Afghan government to withdraw its objections to the Taliban office in Qatar.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2015.