The Taliban insurgency has quietly sent political negotiators to Pakistan from its Qatar-based office amid a new diplomatic push for encouraging peace talks between parties to the Afghanistan war.
A three-member Taliban delegation headed by Shahabuddin Dilawar, a senior member of the Doha office, is currently in Islamabad, local media reported Tuesday. Pakistani officials have not yet commented on the reports.
Diplomatic sources in the capital city have told VOA they are “aware" of the arrival of Taliban officials, but they refused to speculate on their mission.
“Let me check and if I get any information I will get back and share it with you,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid when VOA sought his confirmation and purpose of the insurgent delegation’s visit to Pakistan.
On Tuesday, a U.S. delegation lead by Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells concluded official talks with Pakistani leaders.
A U.S. Embassy statement said Wells emphasized in her meetings with Pakistani officials that President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy “represents an opportunity to work together for the establishment of a stable, peaceful Afghanistan.”
It said that Wells urged Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory.
A Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement issued separately quoted Ambassador Wells as saying that “Pakistan’s support was critical to the success of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.”
Afghan and U.S. officials have long alleged the Taliban and the allied Haqqani Network are using sanctuaries on Pakistani soil to sustain and expand insurgent activities in Afghanistan.
Islamabad denies the charges and insists there are no insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. But officials maintain they are committed to help facilitate a peace dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban using whatever influence Pakistan has to find a political settlement to the Afghan conflict.
“Our influence with the Taliban, naturally has over the years diminished, mainly because most of them have actually moved into Afghanistan and therefore, they are not really under our influence directly,” Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry told VOA in a recent interview.
Meanwhile Afghanistan’s official High Peace Council, which is tasked to promote peace and reconciliation with armed opposition, Tuesday reiterated the government is committed to engage in talks with the Taliban.
“The Afghan government has no pre-conditions for peace talks with [the] Taliban and can talk anywhere [the] Taliban want,” said Akram Khpalwak, who speaks for the 70-member council, while addressing a meeting of hundreds of Afghan youth, women, politicians and civil society representatives in Kabul.
The Taliban’s political office on Tuesday issued a statement in which it again put forward its agenda for engaging in any Afghan peace talks.
“Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] is seeking an end to foreign occupation and implementation of an Islamic system in the country … But the other side [Afghan government] has no clear strategy and is merely making hollow claims about peace talks,” said the statement released to journalists.
The statement denounced as baseless reported official claims Taliban negotiators went to Turkey this week for preliminary talks with the Afghan government.
Also in his speech, Khpalwak again explained that the government had nothing to do with the Turkey talks. He went on to say that Kabul is waiting for the Taliban to respond positively to Afghan calls for coming to the negotiating table to discuss in peace.
“No official negotiations have begun yet and none of the government officials have participated in peace talks. We want negotiations with authentic and authoritative leadership of [the] Taliban,” said Khpalwak.