Islamabad, October 18, 2016: Senior Afghan government and Taliban representatives reportedly have held at least two secret meetings in recent days in a bid to resume a long-awaited peace dialogue to end the war in Afghanistan.
A source within the National Unity Government (NUG) in Kabul has confirmed to VOA the interactions took place in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar, where Taliban political negotiators are based. But he declined to discuss further details.
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The Guardian newspaper disclosed the ground-breaking meetings in an exclusive article published Tuesday, saying they were held in September and October, in which Afghan intelligence chief Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai sat face-to-face with Mullah Abdull Manan Akhund, brother of the deceased Taliban founder and long-time leader, Mullah Omar.
The British paper quoted an unnamed Taliban official as claiming a senior American diplomat was present in the Qatar meetings, though the U.S. government has not commented on the reported claim.
The main spokesman for the Islamist insurgency, Zabihullah Mujahid, when contacted by VOA for his reaction to the reported meetings, said he was busy with war-related activities but had seen the newspaper report.
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“I have sought information from our political officials and will share it with you as soon as I get it. Until then, I cannot offer any comments,” Mujahid said when asked about the reported meetings.
A preliminary round of peace talks between the warring sides took place in Pakistan, July of 2015. U.S., Chinese and Pakistani officials were also present, but that process broke down after it was revealed that Taliban chief Mullah Omar had been dead for over two years.
The killing of Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in a U.S. drone strike this past May in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, diminished any remaining hopes for resuming the Afghan peace process.
The Taliban, under its new chief, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, has since intensified insurgent activities across Afghanistan, inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan security forces and making significant territorial gains.
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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has recently concluded a peace deal with the Hizb-e-Islami insurgent faction led by the controversial warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Under the agreement, the second largest rebel group has agreed to quit violence in return for allowing its fugitive leaders, including Hekmatyar to return to Afghanistan and take part in the national political process.
Ghani was able to secure financial pledges of around 15 billion dollars at this month’s donors’ conference in Brussels to sustain the Afghan reconstruction process for the next four years. But partner nations at the meeting underscored the need for a peaceful settlement to the conflict to ensure permanent stability in Afghanistan. (VOA)
America have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time Pakistan is housing the very terrorists they are fighting
Washington and Kabul have long accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye on the issue of safe havens to Afghan Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network
Top leaders of both groups-Taliban and the Haqqani network enjoy the ability to live freely in certain parts of Pakistan
Washington, USA, September 2, 2017: In his South Asia strategy speech last week, President Donald Trump publicly puts Pakistan on notice that it must stop providing sanctuaries to armed groups that are fighting in Afghanistan.
“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” said Trump, laying out his “condition-based approach” to defeating terrorism in Afghanistan.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting. But that will have to change and that will change immediately,” he vowed.
Washington and Kabul have long accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye on the issue of safe havens to Afghan Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
Analysts charge that sanctuaries in Pakistan have helped the militants sustain a bloody insurgency in Afghanistan against the Western-backed Afghan government.
“Top leaders of both groups [Taliban and the Haqqani network] enjoy the ability to live freely in certain parts of Pakistan — mainly Baluchistan province, but also some of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” Michel Kugelman, a South Asia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, told VOA.
“It is not just the leaderships of these groups that enjoy Pakistani largesse; it’s the fighters, too,” he added.
Afghan Taliban’s leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, is reportedly based in the Pakistani southwestern city of Quetta, which shares a border with Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, the traditional stronghold of the Afghan Taliban.
The Haqqani network, one of the most notorious terror groups in the region, is reportedly based in Miram Shah, a town in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of northern Pakistan. The group, which has been blamed for numerous deadly attacks inside Afghanistan against U.S.-led NATO forces and the Afghan government, is reportedly operating with impunity from across the border.
The Afghan government charges that militant sanctuaries are the main reason behind the country’s instability.
“Neighbor countries have been a major part of the problem in Afghanistan. Terrorists’ safe havens and sanctuaries are out of Afghanistan, where they get support, training, and equipment,” Ahmad Shah Katawazai, a defense liaison at the Afghan embassy in Washington, told VOA.
Pakistan maintains that the Afghan Taliban controls large swaths of territory inside Afghanistan and does not need to have sanctuaries inside Pakistan.
“They don’t need hideouts or sanctuaries in Pakistan. They have vast territory [under their control], which is beyond Kabul’s writ, at their disposal. Why would they come to Pakistan for sanctuaries?” Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said over the weekend.
Following Trump’s speech, Pakistan denied the allegations that it harbors militants and cited its sacrifices in the ongoing war against terror as an example of how the country itself has been a victim of terrorism.
In an effort to illustrate its displeasure at the U.S president’s speech, Pakistan postponed Asif’s planned trip to Washington and also delayed a planned visit to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells to Islamabad.
Could the U.S. take unilateral action?
As the administration is weighing its options to deal with the issue of sanctuaries in Pakistan, some analysts doubt Pakistan will take action against militants operating from its soil unless more rigorous pressure is applied on the country.
“The Trump administration will need to deploy new forms of pressure. Previous forms of pressure — threats, aid conditionalities and aid cuts — have not worked. The administration will need to step up its actions and make them much more draconian — and this is clearly already under consideration,” Kugelman, of the Woodrow Wilson Center, told VOA.
Meanwhile, David Des Roches, an associate professor at the National Defense University in Washington, believes that while it is unlikely that the Pakistanis would back down publicly, it “is quite possible that they will facilitate enhanced American action against militants in Pakistan.”
What seems unclear so far is to what lengths the U.S. is willing to go as far as tackling the issue of safe havens in Pakistan.
While talking to reporters at the State Department last week, U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted that the U.S. would target terrorists “wherever they live” without elaborating further.
“There’s been an erosion of trust because we have witnessed terrorist organizations being given safe haven inside of Pakistan to plan and carry out attacks against U.S. servicemen, U.S. officials, disrupting peace efforts inside of Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, told VOA that the U.S. should target Taliban and Haqqani network sanctuaries inside Pakistan and push Islamabad “out of its comfort zone.”
“Pakistan has become comfortable with its dual policy; receives U.S. assistance and works to defeat the U.S. in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad said.
He advocated for sanctions against senior military and intelligence officers who support extremist groups.
“Take Pakistan off the list of the major non-NATO ally, which provides the opportunity to receive significant security assistance; suspend assistance program; push IMF, World Bank, and Asian and European allies to suspend assistance programs,” Khalilzad added.
“If America imposes sanctions, Pakistan will probably be unable to receive assistance from IMF and the World Bank, and international companies will not be willing to invest in Pakistan,” Saad Mohammad Khan, a retired Pakistani military leader, told VOA. (VOA)