Afghans’ Taliban meet revives slim peace hope

Afghans’ Taliban meet revives slim peace hope

Afghans’ Taliban meet revives slim peace hope

Afghan President Hamid Karzai pardons a would-be child suicide bomber during a ceremony to mark the release of some 20 youths at the Presidential Palace in this August 2011 photo. Afghanistan has been waging a war against Taliban insurgents. AFP photo

Afghan government representatives have met a key member of the Taliban held in a Pakistani jail, an official said yesterday, in a move that could signal fresh hope for peace talks to end the long war.

 The representatives visited Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a powerful Taliban military chief who has been described as the insurgents’ second in command, and discussed peace negotiations with him, the official said. The Taliban had said earlier this year that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar.

However, the Taliban suspended its plans for a diplomatic office in March, complaining of the United States’ “alternating and ever-changing position.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also long sought to negotiate with the Taliban, but the militant group has publicly refused to deal with his administration, branding it an American puppet.
Baradar, whose 2010 arrest in Pakistan was blamed for sabotaging peace initiatives, is the most important Taliban leader held in prison and was known as a trusted aide to the militants’ elusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Karzai angered by arrest

His arrest reportedly angered Karzai because Baradar had been in secret talks with the Afghan government, The Associated Press reported. “Afghan government officials and members of the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan held secret talks with him [Baradar] in prison two months ago in Pakistan,” Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council told Agence France-Presse.

“They talked to him about peace negotiations. The Afghan government has also asked the Pakistani authorities to release him because he has shown interest in peace talks with the government of Afghanistan,” he said. Qasemyar also said members of the peace council had not met with Baradar.

At the time of his arrest the Afghan government and the former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan said his detention had adversely affected efforts to talk to the insurgents in a bid to end the decade-long war.

A Pakistani intelligence official confirmed the meeting, saying Pakistani authorities arranged it at the request of the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad. A spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry said they continue to push for Pakistan to release Baradar and other Taliban prisoners to speed the effort for peace talks.

Afghanistan confirms talks

“The Afghan government has requested several times from Pakistan not only the release of Mullah Baradar, but of all those Taliban leaders who are in Pakistani prisons. Unfortunately so far we haven’t seen any positive actions from the Pakistan side, but we are hopeful that they will take practical measures regarding this issue,” Janan Mosazai told reporters at a news conference earlier in the day.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Aug. 10 that it was in talks with Afghanistan on Baradar’s release, but a senior security official said that no decision had been reached to free him. Pakistan has said it will do anything required by Kabul to support an Afghan-led peace process, but there is a wide degree of skepticism in Afghanistan and the United States about the sincerity of the country.

Washington and Kabul frequently accuse Islamabad for its failure to stop insurgent attacks from its territory. In June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned Pakistan that the U.S. was losing patience with Pakistan’s refusal to eliminate safe havens in its territory.

The United States leads a NATO force of 130,000 troops against the Taliban. NATO troops in Afghanistan are due to pull out in 2014 and are increasingly working with Afghans they are training
to take over.