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Afghan NGO Organizing Meeting Between Taliban, Influential Afghans

FILE - Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. An Afghan civil society organization is working on its own to organize a meeting in the Gulf later this month between the Taliban and influential members of the Afghan Society.

An Afghan civil society organization said it is working on its own to organize a meeting in the Gulf later this month between the Taliban and influential members of the Afghan Society.

Khalilullah Safi, a founding member of the Afghanistan Peace Studies Organization, APSO, said local media reports that an international group, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is behind the upcoming two-day interaction are inaccurate.

“Pugwash or any other international organization has no role in this meeting directly or indirectly. We are only inviting the United Nations as an observer,” said Safi.

The meeting plans to include a high profile delegation of the Taliban from their political office in Qatar as well as politicians, civil society members, parliamentarians, women’s rights activists, and people close to the Afghan government.

This is not an official meeting and each person would attend in his or her personal capacity, according to APSO.

“Our primary agenda is removing the obstacles to peace and finding ways to improve trust deficit between the two sides so that we can move forward with mutual consent,” he said.

However, he added that other important issues like the protection of civilians during the armed conflict, the role of women and youth in the peace process, and freedom of the press would also come under discussion, along with issues like health, education, and human rights.

Pugwash, an international group that touts a tradition of “dialogue across divides” and has received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, has previously organized several similar conferences between Taliban and Afghan government and civil society members.

The confusion about Pugwash’s involvement was likely the result of interviews in the local media and in VOA’s Pashto Service by one of the attendees, Ziaulhaq Amarkhel. Amarkhel, who runs a civil society organization called Mili Subac (National Stability), is invited to the upcoming meeting. He has also participated in Pugwash organized meetings in the past.

Safi said APSO was going public with information about the conference, which was previously kept quiet, to counter inaccuracies or misconceptions swirling around the event.

“The organization is in direct contact with all parties of the conflict and no side, including the government, is putting any obstacles in its way,” he said in response to rumors in Kabul that the Afghan government did not want the conference to occur and was requesting governments in the Gulf to withhold visas for the attendees.

Such rumors surged when the conference was postponed earlier this month, but APSO says the change in date was due to logistical issues and it plans to move forward with the meeting.

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