Tuesday May 21, 2024

Afghan Taliban replace head of negotiating team

By Mushtaq Yusufzai
September 07, 2020

PESHAWAR: In a dramatic move, the Afghan Taliban replaced head of their negotiation team and appointed Sheikh Abdul Hakeem, a close aide of supreme leader, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada, for the long-awaited peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

Sheikh Abdul Hakeem landed in Doha a few days and replaced an articulate Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai. Also, the Taliban leader replaced Suhail Shaheen, spokesman of Taliban Qatar-based political council, with Dr Naeem Wardag. It was only a week ago when Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada had announced a 21-member negotiation team for likely peace talks with the Afghan government and made Abbas Stanakzai as head of the team. The Taliban sources told The News that the Taliban supreme leader had personally chosen members of the negotiation team and given them a free hand to discuss all major issues with the Afghan government that could resolve the years old bloody conflict and bring peace to the war-torn country.

Abbas Stanakzai would work as deputy to Sheikh Abdul Hakeem during the peace talks with the Afghan government. According to Taliban sources, before his new assignment, Sheikh Abdul Hakeem was the shadow chief justice of Taliban’s Islamic Emirate and head of the Ulema Shura or council of religious scholars. He is stated to be very close to the Taliban supreme leader. According to Taliban sources, all the decisions made by Sheikh Abdul Hakeem were always backed by Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada. “Ameerul Momineen (Taliban supreme leader) has a lot of respect for Sheikh Abdul Hakeem. He is one of the few Taliban leaders whom Sheikh Haibatullah pays extra regards and even kisses his hands,” a senior Taliban leader privy to the relations told The News on condition of anonymity.

According to Taliban sources, the Taliban supreme leader had empowered the 21-memebr negotiation team and “could even declare a ceasefire if they felt necessary for success of peace talks”. They said 65 per cent members of the team were chosen from Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura or Leadership Council. Asked about the unexpected change of command, Taliban said Sheikh Abdul Hakeem would have the ultimate authority even if Abbas Stanakzai led the Taliban negotiation team in talks. They said the Taliban had also replaced some members of the negotiation team.

Other 20 members of the team are: Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, belongs to Logar province, Mullah Shireen Akhund, Kandahar, Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, Logar, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Kandahar, Mullah Abdul Lateef Mansoor, Paktia, Mohammad Anas Haqqani, Paktia, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, Paktia, Mullah Mohammad Fazil Mazloom, Uruzgan, Qari Din Mohammad, Badakhshan, Maulvi Abdul Ghani, Badakhshan, Maulvi Ameer Khan Muttaqi, Helmand, Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, Jowzjan, Maulvi Mateeul Haq Khalis, Nangarhar, Mullah Mohammad Nabi Omari, Khost, Sheikh Mohammad Qasim Turkman, Kanduz, Mullah Abdul Haq Waseeq, Ghazni, Mullah Noorullah Noori, Zabul, Maulvi Abdul Kareem, Herat, and Maulvi Fareeduddin, Paktika. Talks could begin any time as the Afghan government announced on September 4 to have freed all the 5,000 Taliban prisoners and in return they received the military commandos held hostages by the Taliban. Javed Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, made the announcement on Twitter. Senior members of the Afghan Taliban told The News that all their 5,000 prisoners had been released but around 100 prisoners, added to the list lately, were yet to be freed.

“Almost all members of our negotiation team had reached Doha and a few others would join them soon. They are involved in their internal preliminary meetings before their talks with the Afghan government in the next few days,” said a senior Taliban leader. In Doha, Taliban sources said they could join the intra-Afghan dialogue any time but added their top leadership had reservations over members of the team announced by the Afghan government.

“Our stance was always for inclusive talks, involving all Afghan factions in the intra-Afghan dialogue. The present team selected by the Afghan government comprises of mostly government and security officials,” said the Taliban leader on condition of anonymity. Also, he said the Afghan government was still holding their six prisoners involved in the killing of foreign troops as per the deal, they are supposed to be shifted to Doha before the start of intra-Afghan peace talks. “There are some minor issues delaying the peace talks but these will hopefully be resolved soon,” he hoped.