KABUL: A co-founder of the Taliban was appointed as the leader of its political office in Qatar on Thursday to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the United States as they try to establish a mechanism to end the 17-year Afghan war.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from a prison in Pakistan in October last year, has been authorised to lead the political team and take decisions, two Taliban sources in Afghanistan said.
The Taliban issued a statement to announce Baradar’s appointment and a reshuffle in their team to put senior leaders into key positions as the talks with US officials gain momentum.
“This step has been taken to strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations process with the United States,” the Taliban said in statement.
US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with the Taliban representatives, which was originally due to run over two days, entered its fourth day on Thursday.
It was not clear whether the talks were to continue on Friday, or how soon Baradar could join the talks.
“Baradar will soon fly to Qatar. He has been given the new position because the US wanted senior Taliban leadership to participate in peace talks,” a senior Taliban official said.
Baradar, who coordinated the insurgent group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan, was arrested in 2010 by a team from ISI and the US Central Intelligence Agency.
His release, according to security experts, was part of high-level negotiations led by Khalilzad with the Taliban.
Diplomatic efforts to end the United States’ longest running conflict intensified last year after the appointment of the Afghan-born Khalilzad to lead direct talks with the Taliban. He has held at least four meetings with the Taliban representatives.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2019