Islamabad - Representatives from Pakistan, Afghanis-tan, China and the US will meet tomorrow (Monday) here to deliberate the terms of reference and other modalities to restart the stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban .
Though confusion persists about date of the proposed meeting as Pakistan’s Foreign Office remains silent, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai had said a few days ago in Kabul that it will take place on January 11 to deliberate the terms of reference and other modalities.
Diplomatic sources told The Nation yesterday that some elements of Afghan Taliban have consented to join the peace and reconciliation process any time anywhere. However, the main faction headed by Mullah Mansoor Akhtar, descendant of late Mullah Omer, has clearly indicated they will join the peace process at later stage.
The three countries - Pakistan, China and the United States – have been supporting the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan to bring an end to the 14-year-old conflict to ensure peace and stability in the region. They will also help the Afghans make the process more result-oriented.
In July 2015, shortly after the inaugural talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban were staged, the announcement that Mullah Omar died two years ago threw the militant group into disarray, stopping the fledgling peace process in its tracks.
Mullah Akhtar Mansour, Mullah Omar’s longtime deputy, took over the leadership, but was rejected by parts of the movement which accused him of covering up Omar’s death for his own gains and of being Pakistan’s puppet.
Mansour’s faction has shown signs of warming to the idea of joining peace talks at some stage. And last week, he consolidated his position after Mullah Omar’s eldest son and brother swore allegiance to him and is now trying to woo other commanders to bring them under one umbrella.
After six months of worsening fight, with the province of Helmand slipping out of the control and frequent suicide bombings in the capital, Afghanistan and its neighbours are trying to return to peace talks , albeit without the Taliban for now.
Leadership divisions may impede the progress, with some militant factions saying they will not take part in the peace talks .
“There is no such thing as the Taliban , there are groups of Taliban ,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last month.
Senior Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mansour’s deputy and the head of the Haqqani network, has also hinted at joining the peace process by sending his representatives.
Last week, Taliban’s main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that no formal negotiating team had been appointed. “We haven’t received any formal message for peace talks so far and therefore we didn’t appoint our team for negotiations,” he said.
By contrast, Mansour’s rivals led by Mullah Muhammad Rasoul, are holding out. “We are not involved and will never be part of Mullah Mansour’s peace negotiations,” said Rasoul’s deputy and spokesman Mullah Manan Niazi. He added the group’s objective remained to drive foreign forces out of Afghanistan completely. “We will continue this Jihad until reaching that goal,” he said.
For its part, the Taliban may look for signs of concessions in areas including 2011 United Nations sanctions that impose asset freeze and travel bans on its leaders.
“They should first remove us from the blacklist so we can freely travel around the world for negotiations with them,” said the member of Mansour’s faction. On other side, Russia has already signaled willingness to be “flexible” on the issue.