London, Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat – An Afghan source has revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are headed for Islamabad for further talks with Pakistani officials with regards to ending the violence in Afghanistan.
The source close to the negotiations told Asharq Al-Awsat that a Taliban delegation met with representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Attendees included Mullah Mohamed Tayeb Agha, the spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and Mawlawi Abdul Kabir who was second deputy of the Taliban’s Council of Ministers and former governor of Nangarhar province. The Afghan government delegation was led by MP Arif Noorzai, who was deputy to parliament speaker Sheikh Younis Qanuni.
According to the source, others who participated in the negotiations included
Mawlawi Arsalan Rahmani, former deputy minister of education during the Taliban era, as well as Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, former foreign minister, Mullah Ahmed Yaar, who was minister of refugees and returnees, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad who was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for four years, and Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the former Taliban envoy to the United Nations.
The source added that the negotiations, which were hosted in Saudi Arabia in the last ten days of the Islamic month of Ramadan, were used as an opportunity for the Taliban to announce that it had distanced itself from the Al Qaeda organization.
The source that remained anonymous due to the sensitive situation in Afghanistan said that talks took place over three days in the holy city of Mecca. An individual who took part in the negotiations said that there was a positive and friendly atmosphere despite numerous points of contention between the two parties. He stated, ‘It is in the nature of Afghans to respect the opinions of others.’
The source revealed that the Afghan delegation consisted of 17 members, while the Taliban delegation was made up of eleven individuals.
The talks were also attended by a representative of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-e-Islami party who was a former military commander during the Afghan-Soviet war. Hekmatyar is wanted by the United States on charges of terrorism.
Members of the Taliban and the Afghan government took part in this meeting as well as three other men who were not identified by the source, one of whom is Sheik Faqih of the Afghan Arabs. Sheik Faqih was a leader in the war against the Russians, and is respected by all parties. He is credited as the architect of this initiative to end the fighting. Despite the absence of Mullah Omar, he made it clear that he was no longer allied with Al Qaeda, a position that he has never stated before these negotiations.
The meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia between the Afghan government and the Taliban took over two years to arrange.
A spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign ministry said that there could have been meetings taking place in Islamabad between representatives of Karzai’s government and the Taliban however these meetings would not have been hosted by the Pakistani government.
Saudi Arabia’s initiative is an indication that it will now play a more direct role in trying to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan in comparison to its previous policy of dealing with Kabul only via Pakistan.
Talks between the two sides have emerged following Hamid Karzai’s recent call to Taliban officials for political negotiation and requests for Saudi Arabia to mediate. The move also indicates Saudi Arabia’s acknowledgement of Pakistan’s political weakness at this point in time, and the importance of preventing the Al Qaeda organisation from growing.
Saudi Arabia was one of three countries that recognized the Taliban regime before its downfall in 2001 when Afghanistan was invaded by an international coalition led by American troops following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, relations between the two had deteriorated following Mullah Omar’s refusal to hand over Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.