Afghanistan, Taliban restart peace talks in Qatar

Two Taliban officials said on Tuesday that the militant movement held informal, secret peace talks with the Afghan government earlier this month in Qatar, reported Reuters.

According to media reports, the Taliban and senior Afghan government officials have held two secret meetings since September in Qatar in a bid to restart long-stalled peace negotiations.

An official in the National Unity Government in Kabul told AFP that the two rounds of discussions took place in Doha, where the Taliban maintains a political office.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the talks were attended by Mullah Abdull Manan Akhund, brother of Taliban founder and long-time leader Mullah Omar who died in 2013.

They added that U.S. officials were part of the process, although they did not specify whether they were directly involved in the talks.

Furthermore, Taliban officials, who are based in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, demanded that the group be officially recognized as a political movement, its leaders’ names be removed from a UN blacklist and all prisoners be released.

During the talks, Afghan and U.S. officials demanded that the Taliban should declare a ceasefire, lay down arms and start formal peace talks.

“Like our previous meetings, it was a waste of time and resources, as we could not achieve anything from the meeting,” said the UAE-based official.

On the other hand, Reuters outlined that Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed reports of the meeting, saying they were propaganda aimed at creating divisions within the insurgency.

ALSO, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would not confirm or deny any recent talks in Qatar, but added: “We will use all possible ways in order to reach a lasting peace in the country”.

It is noteworthy that efforts to revive the talks collapsed when the United States killed former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike in Pakistan in May.

Under new Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, fighting has raged across Afghanistan, with the Taliban attacking the northern city of Kunduz and threatening Helmand’s provincial capital Lashkar Gah in the south.

Saudi-Afghan official cooperation

On October 18, Chief Executive of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah held talks with King Salman, to review bilateral relations and prospects of cooperation between the two countries, said Saudi Gazette.

He also met with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif,and Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, in order to enforce cooperation to combat extremism and the fight against terrorism.

“The Afghan delegation will mainly focus on winning Saudi help in areas of higher education, Haj, business links and, more importantly, assistance from the Kingdom in the restoration of stability in the country,” said Javed Faisal, the Afghan chief executive’s deputy spokesman.

Taliban contacts with Iran, Russia and China
In coincidence with these meetings, Afghan news agency ”
Pajhwok ” reported that The Taliban have formalised their relationship with Iran by appointing a representative to the Islamic Republic.

The agency said that Maulvi Nek Muhammad, who was education director when Taliban ruled southern Kandahar province before being toppled in 2001, is the Taliban’s envoy in Tehran.

“We have named envoys for several other countries, including Central Asian States, and have also increased contacts with Russia,” aTaliban leader, who requested not to be identified in the report told the Pakistani newspaper “Express Tribune”.

Also, The group enjoys good relations with China. A Taliban delegation visited the People’s Republic of China in July at the invitation of Beijing.
Last year, the Chinese special envoy for Afghanistan said his country considered the Afghan Taliban a ‘major political force’.

According to The Express Tribune, Taliban leaders were now frequent visitors to Iran as they are campaigning to find new allies.