A delegation endorsed by the movement’s top leader visited the Pakistani capital this week for talks aimed at exploring prospects for resuming peace negotiations to end the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, senior Taliban officials said.
This was reported by Reuters news agency.
It was not clear whether the informal talks with a representative of a leading Afghan politician had led to progress. Several previous attempts to revive the direct talks, which ended immediately after their beginning in 2015, have failed.
Islamabad talks came on Monday after another meeting took place via a back channel in Turkey earlier this week between members of the Taliban and members of the Islamic Party. The party is led by a former leader who was allied with the Taliban before he took up arms last year and joins the political arena in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Abdul Ghani said on Wednesday he was not aware of the Islamabad talks while the Taliban did not respond to requests for comment. Both sides on Monday denied participation in Turkey’s talks.
But senior Taliban officials, who asked not to be named, said Supreme Leader Hibaullah Akhonsadeh had agreed to a meeting on Monday in Islamabad.
Akhunzada is widely believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan.
On the other hand, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that Turkey’s meeting was not attended by a legitimate representative of the Taliban.
“This is an intelligence game aimed at distorting and damaging the real peace process in Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.
The statement pointed to the position of the Taliban that real negotiations can be conducted only after the departure of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
– Safe havens –
Washington has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to persuade insurgent leaders to negotiate and launch a crackdown on what are believed to be safe havens for the Taliban inside Pakistan.
The three-person Taliban delegation from Qatar included Shahabuddin Delaware and Jan Mohammad Madani from the movement’s political bureau in Doha, Qatar, as well as the son-in-law of the late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, the sources said.
The three met with representatives of Afghan politician Bir Syed Hamid Jilani, leader of the Afghan Islamic National League, a senior aide to Gilani said on condition of anonymity. Gilani’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The Taliban’s Haqqani network last week released 14 Afghan soldiers in the eastern province of Paktia in a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks, according to exporters and aides Gilani.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterich, in his latest report to the UN Security Council last month, said there was “no real progress towards a peaceful settlement.”
Under a new strategy announced last year, the United States stepped up its air strikes and stepped up its aid to the Afghan government forces fighting the Taliban in an effort to break the deadlock and force the militants to sit at the negotiating table.
Although the Afghan government controls less than two-thirds of the country, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nicky Healy, said on Wednesday that the new strategy was successful and suggested the possibility of direct talks with the Taliban in the future.
“US policy in Afghanistan is bearing fruit,” Healy told reporters in New York on Wednesday after traveling to Kabul at the weekend with the UN Security Council. We see that we are closer to talks with the Taliban and the peace process than ever.”
She said Afghan officials told the envoys that since the start of the implementation of the US strategy, “they are beginning to see a decline of the Taliban and are beginning to witness their move towards the negotiating table.”
She added that the entire peace process under the leadership of Afghans. “We do not think we need to facilitate the peace process. We believe we need to support the peace process.”