ISLAMABAD: Afghan Tali­ban on Wednesday formally confirmed that a delegation from their political office in Qatar was visiting Pakistan and promised “fruitful results”, but rejected the impression that the group was there to discuss participation in peace talks with Kabul.

Muhammad Naeem, a Qatar-based spokesman for the Taliban, told journalists that Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour had instructed the group to visit Pakistan.

He said the visit “would be in the interest of both countries and would have fruitful results”.

This was first official confirmation by the Taliban of the visit of a three-member delegation from their Doha office, whose arrival was earlier reported by the media. The delegation includes Shahabuddin Dilawar, Jan Muhammad and Mullah Abbas.

The arrival of the group, which coincided with the visit of US Deputy Special Represen­tative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jonathan Carpenter, led to speculations that the Taliban leaders had come to talk about the start of the peace dialogue.

The Taliban spokesman, however, said that the delegation was in Pakistan for talks on wide-ranging issues, including refugees’ matters, problems in Helmand, Nangarhar and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan, and seeking an end to restrictions on the movement of Taliban leader Mullah Baradar.

Talking to VoA about reconciliation being discussed during the trip, he said: “The delegation, which has gone [to Pakistan] from here [Qatar] is holding talks on the issues that I have stated already and has no other particular item on the agenda”.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, responding to a media question about the visit of Taliban leaders from their Qatar office, said he had no information about the trip.

Mr Chaudhry also rejected the possibility of expansion in Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), which is working for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

He said the four-nation group’s attempts for opening direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban did not bear fruit so far, but the group was continuing its efforts.

The foreign secretary’s remarks came against the backdrop of expression of interest by Russia to contribute to peace efforts in Afghanistan. Interfax news agency cited the Russian special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, as saying that Moscow could help in the peace process if interests of all parties taking part in it were respected.

Mr Kabulov was dismissive of the efforts of QCG, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US and China, and said Moscow was not interested in becoming part of the group.

He said Russia was ready to create a new format for peace talks.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2016

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