ISLAMABAD: Pakistani officials have hosted seven Taliban leaders in Islamabad to try and press them into peace talks ahead of a multination meeting in April in Moscow, according to two Taliban officials.

Islamabad has been under international pressure to try and bring Taliban leaders, who have lived in Pakistan since their rule in Afghanistan was overthrown in the 2001 US invasion, to some form of negotiations with Kabul.

However, successive attempts have faltered and failed. Last year Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States met to jumpstart the peace process but that effort faltered after a series of deadly Kabul attacks that Afghanistan blamed on militants hiding in Pakistan.

China, Russia and Pakistan are behind the initiative of the April meeting in Moscow. Afghanistan will attend the meeting as will Iran and India. Washington has not said whether it would attend.

The Two Taliban officials who talked to AP said the militant leaders used the Islamabad gathering, which took place last week, to press their own demands, including that Pakistan free Taliban figures from its jails.

The two officials, who were familiar with the Islamabad meeting, spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals by Pakistani authorities who have not confirmed the meeting.

The international community has stepped up efforts to find a peaceful solution to Afghanistan’s protracted war with the Taliban as security across Afghanistan deteriorates and the Islamic State group threatens to expand its foothold in the region.

Despite their refusal to talk to the Afghan government, Taliban officials have held meetings with many others travelling several times to China, opening talks with Russia and Iran, and also attended conferences in Japan and in Europe.

Apparently, the missions have had some success as both Moscow and Beijing have indicated they’d be willing to see names of the Taliban leaders removed from the United Nations’ terror list, a long-standing demand of the Taliban for participating in talks.

The Taliban attending the Islamabad meeting were led by Mullah Muhammed Abbas, who took part in direct talks with the Afghan government in July 2015 in Pakistan. Those talks abruptly ended as an announcement emerged that Taliban founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had been dead for two years.

Others at the meeting included former Taliban higher education minister Amir Khan Muttaqi; former vice and virtue minister Mullah Muhammed Turabi; Mullah Saaduddin from the so-called Quetta shura or council, and Mullah Daud who represented the so-called Peshawar shura.

A figure known by only one name, Yahya, a senior member of the Haqqani network that is allied with the Taliban, also attended as did Latif Mansour, secretary of the Taliban leadership council.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2017

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