Afghanistan government open to talks with Taliban: Envoy

Islamabad, Jan 30 (IANS) Afghanistan’s top envoy to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal on Monday said his government was open to unconditional peace negotiations with the Taliban group.

“We are in contact with the Qatar office and also a number of influential individual Taliban leaders and commanders but there are no formal negotiations,” the Afghan ambassador told Xinhua in Islamabad.

The remarks came after foreign and Afghan media reported senior Afghan officials had met the Taliban political representatives in Qatar.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have not officially commented on the reports.

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

Taliban negotiators have publicly called for reopening of their political office in Qatar, lifting of UN sanctions on their senior leaders and release of prisoners.

“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 Taliban’s long-standing call for the withdrawal of foreign troops, he said war in Afghanistan provides opportunity for 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,” Zakhilwal said.

When asked if he expects a rise in violence in the coming spring and summer, he said the security situation will be “challenging,” adding that guerrilla type and terrorist attacks are difficult to prevent entirely, but the Afghan security forces will “endure as they have proven themselves by now.”

Taliban traditionally launch their so-called Spring Offensive usually in April that marks the beginning of the fighting season in the war-torn country.

A former Taliban minister Agha Jan Mutasim said there could be an increase in fighting this year if the Taliban and the government failed to come to the negotiating table.

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

Speaking to Xinhua on Skype, he urged Kabul and the Taliban leaders to use the opportunity of the winter lull in the fighting and start a political process.

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

About the threat of the Islamic State or Daesh in Afghanistan, the Afghan ambassador admitted that Daesh activists operate in some areas but they would not take root in the country.

“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.

–IANS

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