Afghan govt ready to negotiate with Taliban unconditionally, says Zakhilwal

ZAKHILWALISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s top envoy to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal said his government is open to unconditional peace negotiations with the Taliban insurgents, Chinese media reported Monday.

“We are in contact with the Qatar office and also a number of influential individual Taliban leaders and commanders,” the Afghan ambassador told Xinhua in Islamabad on Monday, adding no formal negotiations have taken place yet.

These remarks came after reports circulated in foreign and Afghan media that senior Afghan officials had met Taliban members in Qatar.

“Taliban could bring any proposal to the negotiating table but we have ruled out preconditions for talks,” Zakhilwal said when asked about the conditions put forth by the Taliban ahead of the talks.

Taliban negotiators have publicly demanded that their political office in Qatar be opened, UN sanctions on their senior leaders be lifted and their detained members be released.

“We are open to any and all opportunities for peace talks. We can find our way with the Taliban if external support to them stops,” the Afghan envoy said.

Regarding the long-standing call of Taliban to have foreign troops withdrawn from the country, Zakhilwal said that the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan required the foreign troops to stay.

“If there is no war, then there is no reason for their stay in our country. Therefore, if Taliban genuinely want the foreign troops to leave Afghanistan, peace, not war will do that,” the Afghan envoy said.

When asked if he thinks violence will rise in the coming spring and summer, Zakhilwal said the security situation will be “challenging”, adding that terrorist attacks, especially the ones employing guerrilla tactics, are difficult to prevent in entirety, but the Afghan security forces will “endure as they have proven themselves by now.”

The Taliban traditionally launch their so-called annual “spring offensive” in April, marking the beginning of the fighting season in the war-torn country.

A former Taliban minister Agha Jan Mutasim alluded that fighting could increase this year if the Taliban and the government fail to negotiate.

Mutasim, who was a close confidant of the Taliban founder Mullah Omar, had been involved in peace efforts while living in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Speaking to Xinhua on Skype, Mutasim urged Kabul and the Taliban leaders to effectively rake in the winter lull in the fighting and kick-start the political process.

“A rise in violence will diminish the chances of dialogue,” the former Taliban minister said.

Confirming activity of the militant Islamic State (IS) group or Daesh in Afghanistan, the Afghan ambassador admitted that Daesh is operating in some areas of the country but assured that it cannot build a stronghold yet.

“They are in small number but are dangerous. Their approach is not popular among Afghans. Their model does not go with the psyche of Afghans. If Taliban join the peace process, Afghanistan will not have the IS problem,” the envoy said. -DN

THE PASHTUN TIMES

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