Pakistan is to host the second round of direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government on July 31, a senior Pakistani security official said on Saturday, laying to rest speculation that either China or Qatar would be the next venue for the negotiations.
The first round of talks between the two Afghan stakeholders was also held in Pakistan’s tourist resort of Murree on July 7.
“I can confirm the second round of the Afghan peace talks will be held in Pakistan,” the security official told The Express Tribune late Saturday.
“The understanding is that the process should continue here,” he said, denying earlier reports emerging from Kabul that the talks could be held in China or Qatar.
“The first meeting was icebreaking and some progress is expected in this round,” said the official, who requested not to be identified by name.
When asked what progress could be expected, he did not directly respond to the question and said, “Everyone is aware that it is a difficult process. There could be difficulties and challenges. But hopes are also there as the environment is very conducive.”
Taliban considers negotiators
Talking to The Express Tribune, a former Taliban minister and member of the powerful leadership council said the Taliban are deeply involved in internal consultations to nominate senior leaders for the second round.
“The Islamic Emirate wants to expand the delegation for the next round and more senior leaders could take part,” he said.
Three senior Taliban leaders – Mullah Abbas Akhund, Abdul Lateef Mansoor and Haji Ibrahim Haqqani – had attended the Murree talks on July 7.
In Kabul, a member of the Afghan negotiating team, Muhammad Nateqi, ruled out the possibility of changes in their squad.
The Afghan government’s team was headed by the presidential adviser, Haji Deen Muhammad. The Kabul team had representation of the High Peace Council, the chief executive and the vice president, General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
Kabul and its High Peace Council want a ceasefire to top the agenda of the talks as they consider it as a major trust building measure.
Involvement of Qatar office
The Taliban’s former minister said the Qatar political office cannot oppose the talks as the leadership council has approved the process.
“More members of the leadership council are most likely to join the second round. These leaders have more powers than the Qatar office,” he said.
Some sources had earlier indicated that a member from the Qatar office could join the negotiations. But no confirmation is available yet.
In another development, two senior Taliban leaders have wrapped up a visit to Saudi Arabia, in connection with the consultations with the Saudi officials.
A former Taliban deputy foreign minister Mullah Jalil and Kandahar’s former governor Mullah Hasan returned on Saturday after the visit to Saudi Arabia, Afghan sources said.
Some sources earlier said the Afghan government’s negotiator, Haji Deen Muhammad, was also in Saudi Arabia and both sides could have met there. Jalil and Hasan had been part of the talks in the Chinese city of Urumqi.
“The Saudi visit was also aimed at taking the Kingdom into confidence on the peace process,” a Taliban source said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2015.