Pakistan-brokered talks raise hopes of formal dialogue with Taliban

Islamabad, July 12 (IANS) The Pakistan-brokered peace talks between the top officials of the Afghan government and the Taliban leaders have raised hopes for the start of a formal dialogue process, reports Xinhua.

The talks, held in the scenic city of Murree near Islamabad on July 7, were seen as very important as it was the first direct contact between the Taliban insurgents and the Afghan government in nearly 14 years.

The Taliban had long been refusing to sit face-to-face with the government due to their long-standing aversion to the presence of foreign troops and what they called the “powerless” administration in Kabul.

However, their high-level participation in talks of late indicates they are now willing to use the option of dialogue to find a political solution, says Xinhua.

Another key aspect of the development is that both sides agreed in their four-hour talks to keep on continuing the process and to hold another round after the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.

This reflects the mood of trust they had showed during their discussions in the presence of representatives of the US and China, whose role is also important in the stability of Afghanistan, Xinhua said.

The role of Pakistan and other stakeholders will also be important to keep on facilitating the Afghan peace talks as the process could be long and complicated.

A wise approach would be to freely allow Afghans to talk and decide about the future set up. However, no Afghan wants to harm what has been achieved since the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

The talks were significant, as leadership of both sides had duly mandated the participants.

The Taliban nominated their senior most leaders, including two members of the decision-making central leadership council — Mullah Abbas Akhund and Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor. Nearly all other Taliban participants had served as cabinet ministers during the Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, who led the government team, is upbeat at the high level composition of the Taliban delegation. The Afghan delegation comprised representatives of the president, the chief executive and the High Peace Council.

Although no decision was made during their first direct interaction, the delegates exchanged views on key issues to be formally discussed during the next round.

Minister Karzai said the Taliban representatives raised the issues of foreign troops, removal of names of their leaders from the UN sanction lists and the release of their prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

The Afghan side wants a Taliban ceasefire at a time when they have stepped up attacks since they have launched their so-called annual “Spring Offensive”.

The Taliban fighters have taken war from the Pashtoon-majority south and east to the north and had last month briefly took over some areas in Kunduz.

Both sides are likely to formally present list of demands or conditions in the next round, Karzai said in Kabul.

The Taliban had previously suggested direct talks only with the US as they insisted that their demands like an end to the invasion and removal of international restrictions were related only to Washington.

But mounting pressure convinced them to come to the negotiation table, said Xinhua.

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