Latest reports, quoting Taliban sources, have discounted the American claim that the US and Taliban have held face-to-face “peace” negotiations in Qatar. Apparently, the talks failed to take off on account of two snags. First, the US refusal to accept the Taliban demand for the release of five members of their hierarchy imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, in exchange for an American soldier held by them. Second, the Taliban refusal to accept the US condition of a ceasefire in Afghanistan before the peace negotiations could begin. The Taliban sources maintain that their discussion with the US was only confined to the question of prisoner swap. Maulvi Qalamuddin, former Minister for Vice and Virtue in the Taliban government, has told the New York Times that, “Currently, there is (sic) no peace talks going on.” The only thing they were discussing was the exchange of prisoners, he asserted, adding, “We want to strengthen the talks so (that) we can create an environment of trust for further talks in the future.” The Taliban also contend that the US had earlier agreed to free the prisoners before the talks could begin, but has now retracted the promise. The US demand for declaring a ceasefire had not been acceptable to them from the first reports of the possibility of talks were made. The Taliban position envisions announcement of a ceasefire only when foreign forces start to leave Aghanistan.

It must be noted that the positions taken by both sides in public have been uncompromising, with the US insisting on an end to local resistance, as a precondition to peace negotiations, and the Taliban asking for prisoner swap and departure of foreign troops from their country. Only last week, US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman said in Qatar that the Taliban would first have to renounce ‘international terrorism’ before the Americans could sit with them on the negotiating table for a peace deal.

Meanwhile, it appears that both Pakistan and Afghanistan will be holding separate talks with Taliban representatives in Saudi Arabia, because they feel left out of the process. According to the Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is scheduled to visit Kabul on Wednesday to meet President Hamid Karzai. She is expected to exchange views about the war on terror and the talks in Saudi Arabia for bringing peace to Afghanistan. Pakistan being a neighbour and having a large Pashtun population, has a seat at the table in the final settlement. It has always favoured Afghanistan to lead any negotiations in this regard. For the solution to be long-lasting, it must be home grown and acceptable to all sections of Afghan society. As Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit has said, outsiders can facilitate the process, but ultimately the shape the peace settlement should take must be decided by the Afghans themselves.