ISLAMABAD - A key Afghan minister insists that talks with the Taliban will happen very soon despite contradictory news reports and confusion on the issue.
Without naming the group, Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the deputy foreign minister, said his government has made strides in the effort to start a dialogue with what he termed “the violent opposition.”
“As we speak, the government is putting together an Afghan negotiating team and a venue is being decided on where to hold peace talks,” Karzai said.
He made the statement Monday in Kabul at a seminar organized by the Afghan Foreign Ministry’s Center for Strategic Studies and a Chinese government policy group, the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Karzai, who is the nephew of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, encouraged China to use its influence with Pakistan to facilitate talks.
Afghanistan has often blamed Pakistan for sheltering members of the Afghan Taliban. Afghan officials also say they believe Pakistan wields enough influence over the Taliban to force them to the negotiating table.
Monday, a Taliban spokesman told VOA that the group rejects any negotiations with the Afghan government.
Zabiullah Mujahid reiterated that talks with Kabul were not possible until foreign forces completely withdrew from Afghanistan. He also said that the government in Kabul was not sovereign.
Regional analysts suggest there may be divisions within the Taliban ranks on whether to have a dialogue with Kabul.
They say that if talks do not start soon, there may be a negative effect on Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan. Afghan officials insist that if the coming spring fighting season is as bloody as the previous one, that would suggest to them that Islamabad has not targeted the Afghan Taliban in its recent offensive against militants.
Pakistan insists that it is targeting all militants in its efforts to uproot terrorism from the country and that it will not allow its soil to be used against any neighboring country. U.S. officials have acknowledged that Pakistan’s recent military offensive in the North Waziristan region has disrupted the activities of the Afghan Taliban as well.
This will be the first fighting season in which the Afghan National Army will face the militants without support from the U.S.-led international forces, which ended their combat mission in December.