ISLAMABAD: A delegation from Afghan Taliban’s Qatar-based political office arrived here on Monday for talks on issues impeding the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue for ending the 19-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Mullah Baradar, the director of the political office and Taliban’s deputy emir responsible for political affairs, are leading the delegation, which is here on the invitation of the foreign ministry.
Baradar spent nearly eight years in the custody of Pakistani security agencies before he was set free in 2018 on the US request for facilitating the Afghan peace process.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference that the delegation would visit Foreign Office for a formal dialogue on Tuesday (today).
He did not give any details about the length of the delegation’s visit and other engagements during their stay here.
This is a second visit of the Taliban’s political delegation to Pakistan, as they had visited Islamabad previously in October 2019.
Mr Qureshi recalled how the last visit had helped in the eventual signing of the US-Taliban agreement in February 2020 and said the delegation had been invited again with the hope that the complexities holding back the intra-Afghan dialogue could be addressed and the process could start soon.
As prisoners’ exchange from both sides was the most important pre-requisite for the start of intra-Afghan talks, which were originally scheduled for March 10 under the US-Taliban agreement inked in Doha, the delay in prisoners’ release has been the chief reason preventing the start of the talks for several months.
Taliban claim to have released all the 1,000 Afghan security forces they had committed to release, whereas Kabul is yet to set free 320 prisoners of the 5,000 people they were to liberate.
The Afghan government had obtained the assent for the release the last of the 400 Taliban prisoners, who, it says, have been convicted in grave crimes. So far only 80 of those have been returned, while 320 remain in government custody.
The latest Afghan explanation on the delay in the release is that the Taliban, too, are still holding 20 of the Afghan commandos, whom they had agreed to release.
The differences between the Taliban and Afghan administration over prisoners’ release is therefore a major obstacle in the commencement of the intra-Afghan dialogue.
In a Twitter post, Taliban political office spokesman Suhail Shaheen announced that the visiting delegation would discuss “recent developments in Afghanistan’s peace process, relaxation and facilitation of peoples’ movement and trade between the two neighbouring countries, issues related to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and other related topics”.
He said delegations from Taliban’s political office kept visiting various countries for “furthering positive relations” and “conveying views and stance to the world about the peace process”.
He said the trips had been postponed due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), but they were being resumed as the situation had improved. He said that the Taliban would be visiting some other countries also.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2020