ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office announced on Thursday the postponement of second round of Afghan peace talks following reports about the death of Taliban chief Mullah Omar that could deepen an already intense internecine turf war within the insurgent group.

“In view of the reports regarding the death of Mullah Omar and the resulting uncertainty… the second round of the Afghan peace talks… is being postponed,” a brief FO statement said hours after its spokesman had at the weekly media briefing said that Islamabad was geared to hold the talks.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan regretted the postponement of the dialogue and hoped that the meeting would be rescheduled soon.

The meeting between Taliban and Afghan government representatives in the presence of officials from Pakistan, China and the United States was scheduled to be held in Pakistan on Friday.

Kabul hopes meeting will be rescheduled soon

This would have been the second round of the reconciliation dialogue which began in Murree on July 7 and was dubbed the Murree Peace Process for ending the 14-year conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been playing the role of a host and facilitator of the process.

According to the FO announcement, the meeting was deferred at the request of the Afghan Taliban.

In a background briefing, an official said the Taliban had sought some time to deal with the new situation and redraw their strategy for engagement with the Afghan government.

Although an Eid message attributed to Mullah Omar by Taliban spokesman Zabhiullah Mujahid earlier this month had endorsed the dialogue with the government, there has been a continuing serious rift within the group over the decision.

Both spokesman Mujahid and Taliban’s political office had in separate statements over the past two days distanced themselves from the talks which were to be held on Friday.

There have been “reports that peace talks will take place very soon between the Islamic Emirate and the Kabul regime … The Islamic Emirate has handed all agency powers in this regard to its political office (in Doha, Qatar) and they are not aware of any such process”.

It is evident that the confirmation about Mullah Omar’s death will only deepen this division. The battle over leadership succession is expected to further complicate the situation.

Pakistani officials are, nevertheless, hopeful that the break in the process will not be long and it will resume soon.

“We don’t think that the reports of Mullah Omar’s death have caused any setback to the dialogue. It is a continuous process and all stakeholders believe that its continuity can bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan,” an official said, adding that a new date would be announced soon.

He said Pakistan had played a pivotal role in getting the reconciliation process started and would try to prevent it from derailing.

The FO statement also reflected this view.

“Pakistan and other friendly countries of Afghanistan hope that the Taliban leadership will stay engaged in the process of peace talks in order to promote a lasting peace in Afghanistan,” it said.

The officials appear comfortable with the reported designation of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the next emir.

Mullah Mansoor had been cooperating with Pakistan in the dialogue process and the delegation for the first round was handpicked by him.

Soon after returning to Kabul from the first round of talks in Murree, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai who had led the government delegation told journalists that the Taliban representatives had the blessings of Mullah Mansoor who was then serving as No 2 in Taliban hierarchy.

It was, however, interesting to note in the FO statement the hope that the detractors of the process would not succeed.

“It is further hoped that those forces, which due to their mala fide intent wanted to undermine the peace talks, will not succeed in their designs,” the statement said.

The comment implies that Pakistani officials look at the revelation about the death of Mullah Omar as a conspiracy against the dialogue initiative. They already feel that the process got delayed by months because of media leaks following the initial communication between Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in February about the willingness of Taliban to negotiate.

In Kabul, the Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement that Afghanistan “regrets the postponement of the second meeting of formal peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban movement, which was scheduled for July 31, 2015, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.

Afghanistan, it said, remained committed to the peace negotiations and hoped that the meeting would be held in the near future.

The Afghan foreign ministry said the atmosphere for talks was more conducive after the confirmation of the news of passing away of Mullah Omar than before.

“The Islamic Republic of Afghan­istan believes that in the current situation peace negotiations are possible than any time before; therefore, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for sincere cooperation of all the relevant actors in supporting the Afghan government’s efforts towards a lasting peace in the country and the region,” the statement said.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2015

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