PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban on Sunday announced cancellation of their scheduled meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan and US officials in Pakistan.
Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told this correspondent that the Taliban meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan has been cancelled. The Taliban said that though their meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Islamabad was not in the plan but they were conveyed that there is likelihood of their meeting with him and his delegation members.
“All our proposed meetings in Pakistan have been cancelled due to some unavoidable issues,” said a senior Taliban leader. He said their meetings in Islamabad were cancelled as most of their leaders were not able to travel to Pakistan due to the ban on their movement by the UN Security Council.
“This ban on movement on our leaders is like a hanging sword on us. There should be an end to this drama if the world powers are sincere in resolving the Afghan conflict,” said another Taliban leader based in Qatar. He spoke to this correspondent on condition of anonymity.
Some officials, however, said that Pakistan cancelled the meeting with Taliban in Islamabad after Afghanistan approached the UN Security Council to raise objections to Pakistan’s engagement with the Taliban.
Sibghatullah Ahmadi, a spokesman and Director General of Communication of Afghanistan’s Foreign Affairs in a tweet mentioned that “Afghanistan complains to the UN Security Council on Pakistan’s engagements with the Taliban on which Afghan government is not consulted. It not only undermines the ongoing peace efforts but violates Afghanistan’s national sovereignty, also falls in violation of UNSC Resolution 1988”.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also issued a statement to the media to confirm cancellation of their representatives’ meeting with Imran Khan and US officials. He said the meetings were cancelled due to the ban on movement of Taliban leaders.
It was never made clear how many Taliban leaders were supposed to come to Pakistan and from where they would need to travel. According to Taliban sources, some of their representatives had managed to reach Islamabad on Sunday from Afghanistan and others were planning to arrive in the evening.
“Soon after their arrival in Islamabad, they were told that their meeting with Imran Khan and other civil and military officials had been cancelled. However, they were told that meeting with US officials and Mohammad bin Salman were likely to take place as per the previous plan,” said a senior Taliban leader privy to the developments.
Pleading anonymity, he said a few hours later they were conveyed that all their meetings in Islamabad had been cancelled due to some “unavoidable circumstances”. Taliban sources said they had strong doubts that some regional powers might attempt to create hurdles for their meeting with Pakistani and US officials in Islamabad.
“Some regional powers are out to sabotage the ongoing peace process. We would like to appeal to all world powers to support the present peace initiative and help restore peace in Afghanistan,” said a Taliban member in Qatar.
He said they were saddened by the cancellation of their representatives’ visit to Pakistan. Taliban, however, said their proposed meeting with US negotiators would take place as scheduled in Doha, Qatar on February 25.
Taliban sources said that besides other senior leaders, their head of Political Commission Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and attend sessions with US and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
However, the sources said that senior Taliban leadership was thinking to send Mulla Baradar to Qatar though he would not participate in the peace talks with US officials there. The head of Taliban’s Qatar-based Political Commission, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai would lead a 13-member delegation in the peace talks with US.
Other sources said that efforts were still underway to arrange a meeting between Taliban representatives and Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who arrived in Islamabad on Sunday on a two-day visit. The Taliban were earlier scheduled to meet the Zalmay Khalilzad’s led US team on Monday.
According to Taliban sources, Abdul Ghani Baradar was also supposed to come to Pakistan on Sunday for the scheduled meetings with Imran Khan and Prince Salman bin Mohammad.
Some Taliban leaders feared that besides the negative role of Afghan government and other regional powers such as India and Iran against their peace talks, a tug of war among different Arab countries could also cause damage to the efforts being initiated for finding a negotiated settlement of the Afghan issue.
Pakistan earlier annoyed a number of senior Taliban leaders when it put pressure on Taliban representatives to involve the Afghan government in the peace process. Pakistan had also arrested some Taliban members in Pakistan when they refused to hold talks with Afghan officials. According to sources, the US and other powers then convinced Pakistan not to use force against Taliban at a time when they had joined the negotiation process.
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