Afghan govt, Taliban in direct contact
By Baqir Sajjad Syed | 7/8/2015

ISLAMABAD: Representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban resumed their direct contact here on Tuesday night, marking a fresh start of the reconciliation process.

Their initial contact in Qatar broke down in 2013 because of the flag and plaque controversy at the opening of Doha office. But later a fresh round of talks was held in May in the Chinese city of Urumqi for the start of formal talks.

Officials from Pakistan, the US, China and other countries that had helped in the start of the process are also taking part in the talks. This shows the international backing for the process. A source said the participating countries were more than facilitators. They would be the guarantors if the Afghan government and Taliban eventually struck a deal.

The Afghan delegation is being led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai. Other key figures in the Afghan team are Haji Din Mohammad, who is adviser to President Ashraf Ghani and also a member of the High Peace Council, and Mr Mohammad Natiqi, who is a representative of Afghan Chief Executive Mr Abdullah Abdullah.

In a twitter posting, the Afghan presidency confirmed the participation of the delegation in the talks. `A delegation from the High Peace Council of Afghanistan has travelled to Pakistan for negotiations with the Taliban,` the tweet said.

The Taliban group at the talks is being headed by Mullah Abbas, who hails from the Kandahar province and previously served as attorney general in the Taliban regime. He is considered to be very close to Taliban chief Mullah Omar and members of his Shura.

Although the exact composition of the Taliban delegation could not be verified, a source said it was `fully represented` and had the `blessings of all factions`.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who had earlier through a statement distanced the insurgent group from the process that was being facilitated by Pakistan, was uncharacteristically quiet.

Pakistan`s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry is also sitting at the talks as a facilitator.

The talks were to continue late into the night. There could well be another session if Tuesday night`s meeting goes well, the source said.

`This is an icebreaker and this is a historic breakthrough I would say.

However, because this is a very old and complicated issue nobody should expect this to happen overnight and neither we need to jump to conclusions whether the process has progressed or not. As long as this meeting takes place and they come out of the meeting with another plan I think it is a good breakthrough,` the source said when asked about the prospects of something big coming out of the session.

Pakistan had in late May facilitated a secret round of negotiations between the then Secretary of High Peace Council Masoom Stanekzai and Taliban representatives in the Chinese city of Urumqi for the start of formal talks. Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz had last month told a Senate panel that a meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban was being planned and that the next few weeks would be crucial.

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif had during his visit to Kabul in February conveyed Taliban`s willingness to start peace dialogue with the Afghan government to President Ghani. Despite all the anticipation about the start of the process, it kept on getting delayed and the launch of the Spring Offensive by the Taliban dampened hopes about peace returning to the war-ravaged country.

A senior security official, who had separately briefed Dawn a day earlier, said it was important that the dialogue was effective.

Because of the continuing violence in Afghanistan, there had been concerns that `the authority of the political leadership of Taliban` with whom Pakistan was in touch, `had weakened and the field commanders were not listening`.

The rallying cry of Mullah Omar has weakened, the official said, adding that the rise of Middle Eastern terror group Daesh (IS)in Afghanistan had further complicated the scenario.

Islamabad has put in extra efforts for making this process successful. It always knew that peace in Pakistan depended on peace in Afghanistan, but the way President Ghani politically invested in normalising the bilateral relationship made the (Pakistan) government go an extra mile.

`It is imperative for us that President Ghani succeeds,` the official said

Published in Dawn