Reviving peace talks: Ball in Kabul’s court now, say Afghan Taliban

Group confirms they have sought China’s role in restarting dialogue. PHOTO: AFP

Group confirms they have sought China’s role in restarting dialogue. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: A senior Afghan Taliban leader has confirmed that representatives of the group recently visited China seeking their role in the peace talks, adding that it was now up to Kabul to decide whether it wanted to come to the negotiation table.

“Taliban are optimistic about the peace process and they believe China could play a key role,” former Taliban minister Agha Jan Mutasim told The Express Tribune.

Mutasim, a close confidante of former Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Omar, said that the problem of coming to the negotiation table was now one for the Kabul administration and not the Taliban.

China, a member of the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) which has been pushing for a peace process in Afghanistan, had earlier this month invited political negotiators from Taliban’s Qatar office. Subsequently a four-member delegation led by Sher Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, visited Beijing on July 18-22.

Mutasim, who served as the finance minister during the Taliban rule, recalled that when a Taliban delegation arrived in Pakistan earlier on April 25, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani closed the door on talks on the same day while reacting to a deadly bombing in Kabul just days earlier.

Smoothening intra-group differences

Asked about the differences within the Taliban, Mutasim claimed that leaders of breakaway factions and dissident groups such as Maulvi Muhammad Rasoul and Mullah Abdul Rauf, have now stopped publicly opposing the new leader Maulvi Haibatullah.

Haibatullah had been appointed in June after a May 21 drone strike killed Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in Naushki district of Balochistan.

Rasoul had been arrested in Pakistan when he fled infighting in southern Afghanistan earlier this year. He remains in detention.

Abdul Manan Niazi, a former governor of Kabul under the Taliban rule and a spokesman for the rebel faction, is the only leader who still publicly opposes Haibatullah.

“Taliban leaders have now realised that repeating bitter experiences of internal rifts during Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s reign will not benefit anyone,” Mutasim said while referring to the dozens of Taliban members killed in internal clashes.

Mansoor Dadullah, deputy chief of the rebel group, and his brother were among the most notable casualties of the infighting.

To a question about shuffling the group’s leadership, the Taliban leader said consultations are underway which would enable the new chief to accommodate some leaders who had previously parted ways over Mansoor’s election.

Among those under consideration is Sayed Tayyeb Agha, who quit as head of the Taliban political office in August last year just days after he refused to pledge allegiance to Mansoor. He is likely to get his previous position among other key political slots.

Maulvi Sher Abbas Stanekzai, who led the Taliban delegation in July 18-22 visit to China, had been appointed as his replacement.

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