PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban said on Wednesday they would hold peace talks with the United States in Islamabad on February 18, before their scheduled meeting in Qatar on 25th of this month.
Taliban said they would meet Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for “comprehensive discussions about Pak-Afghan relations and issues pertaining to Afghan refugees and Afghan businessmen”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement to media saying their negotiations process would continue to take place with the United States and meetings have already been held in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The spokesman said their next round of peace talks will take place on February 25, in Doha, the capital city of Qatar.
About their meeting in Pakistan, the spokesman said they had received a formal invitation from of the government of Pakistan and therefore they decided to meet US officials in Islamabad on February 18.
The Taliban spokesman didn’t explain reason of holding a meeting with US officials in Islamabad when they had already announced their schedule for peace negotiations in Qatar on 25th of this month.
Senior Taliban leaders however argued that it was first time they received a formal invitation from Pakistan’s Foreign Office and invited them to Islamabad and offered a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“There is a big change in Pakistan’s policy this time. Previously they used to use pressure on us and would contact us either through Maulana Fazlur Rahman or late Maulana Samiul Haq whenever they needed. However, this is first time they invited us through their foreign office and that’s why our leadership accepted their invitation”, said a senior Taliban leader in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
Pleading anonymity, he said one of the major reasons they refused to meet US special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and his delegation members last time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as both the countries wanted Taliban to include the Afghan government in the peace process.
“Pakistan had last time approached us through these Pakistani religious leaders and wanted us to also include the Afghan government in the peace process which was not possible for us. And that’s why we didn’t meet Zalmay Khalilzad and his delegation,” said the Taliban leader.
Taliban termed it their “biggest” success when Pakistan acknowledged their position officially and invited them to their country through their foreign office.
He said they had already announced their schedule for peace negotiations with US in Qatar but Pakistan this time didn’t make any demand from Taliban and was very keen to invite them to the country and meet their prime minister.
“The world has now recognised our position and accepted us true representatives of Afghanistan. It was made possible after our long struggle and sacrifices of thousands of our people in Afghanistan,” said the Taliban leader.
He said their top leadership had recently decided to appoint their separate official representatives for Pakistan and Iran. He said they would announce it through the media.
He didn’t agree with rumours that US wanted Pakistan to use its influence on Taliban before the crucial meeting in Qatar to show flexibility in the February 25 peace negotiations.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they had not yet nominated their delegation members for the talks with US in Islamabad.
Taliban sources said some of their representatives from Qatar may arrive in Islamabad while some of the people are expected to travel from Afghanistan for the meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad and Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Taliban on Tuesday nominated their 14-member team for talks with US in Qatar.
Taliban’s new head of political council Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar will not participate in the Qatar talks.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, who had been leading Taliban delegation in the peace talks, has been appointed Taliban chief negotiator.
Other members of his team include, Maulvi Ziaur Rahman Madani, Maulvi Abdus Salam Hanafi, Sheikh Shahabudin Dilawar, Mulla Abdul Lateef Mansoor, Mulla Abdul Manan Omari, Maulvi Ameer Khan Muttaqi, Mulla Mohmmad Fazil Mazloom, Mulla Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mulla Mohammad Anas Haqqani, Mulla Noorullah Noori, Maulvi Mohammad Nabi Omari and Mulla Abdul Haq Waseeq.
Taliban sources said that some of their members in Qatar were banned in Pakistan and it would enable them to visit Islamabad, in case Pakistan left the ban on their entry.
Taliban said their representatives would like to discuss prisoners’ exchange and some other issues with Zalmay Khalilzad in the Islamabad meeting. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has frequently been claiming to have brought the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with US.