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)