Al Jazeera learns of talks in Kabul involving Afghan, Pakistani and Taliban officials.
|Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, has said he is willing to talk to “moderate” Taliban [File: EPA]|
Senior Afghan MPs and policy advisers, a former Taliban ambassador, two former Pakistani intelligence officials and the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan were among the delegates at a meeting called to plot a way forward for the war-ravaged country.
The attendees were attending the three-day conference in a personal capacity but are influential figures in their own communities and vital to any future, more substantive peace talks.
“The organisers wanted to keep these meetings secret,” Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Kabul, said on Wednesday.
“They keep telling us they are not important, they’re just an exchange of ideas, but key delegates from this meeting have spent the last two days visiting the presidential palace and meeting President Karzai.”
Karzai has made no secret of his hope to reconcile with some Taliban elements, and last week General David Petraeus, the senior US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, said senior Taliban officials had made “overtures” to the Kabul government.
Recently Karzai establised a 70-member peace council to work towards negotiations.
Al Jazeera as learned that another meeting will take place later this month in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, where Taliban and government representatives held talks earlier this year.
The organisers said that members of the Haqqani network, an armed group blamed for attacks on Nato targets in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, would be present in the Maldives.
Staffan di Mistura, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, acknowledged that there were several such conferences taking place and the hope was to bring them together to discuss a meaningful peace.
The Kabul talks took place as The Washington Post reported that negotiation were taking place involving representatives of the so-called Quetta Shura, former elements of the Taliban government that fled to Pakistan after the US-led invasion in 2001.
The US newspaper reported that representatives of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, had begun to discuss a broad agreement that would include the participation of some Taliban figures in Afghanistan’s government and the withdrawal of US and Nato troops on an agreed timeline.
Omar has repeatedly refused to enter into negotiations while foreign troops remain in the country.
Waheed Omer, a spokesman for Karzai, declined to confirm or deny that any new meetings were taking place with Taliban representatives.
“There were contacts in the past and may now be direct or indirect ones. There have been regular contacts over the past two years,” he told the Reuters news agency when asked about the Washington Post story.
“There haven’t been any substantive talks, there have been contacts only.”
The White House said on Wednesday that it supported recent attempts by the Afghan government to open peace talks with Taliban leaders but stressed that it was not involved in any negotiations.
“This is about Afghanistan,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said. “It has to be done by the Afghans.
“This is not something that we do with the Taliban. This is something that the Afghan government has to do with the people of Afghanistan.”