The leadership of Afghan Taliban has disassociated itself from a process Pakistan has been facilitating to encourage the group’s dialogue with the government of Afghanistan for peace and reconciliation.
The militant group’s move has come as a setback for an interaction planned for this month. At the same time it has revealed a growing split within the Taliban ranks, which will make the task of reconciliation even more complex.
“If something as such has happened or is planned for the future then it is mere personal interaction which can in no way ever represent the Islamic emirate,” a statement emailed to journalists on Wednesday by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on behalf of what was described as “Leadership council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” said.
The statement did not directly refer to a statement of Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz before the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this week, but the mention of “something happening in past or planned for future” left no doubt that the militant group was responding to him.
Mr Aziz told the committee that Pakistan had facilitated last month a meeting of Afghan High Peace Council Secretary Masoom Stanekzai with Taliban representatives in the Chinese city of Urumqi and another meeting was planned this month.
Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, during his visit to Kabul in February, had told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Taliban were ready for talks with his government.
The group clarified that its political office based in Qatar was authorised to undertake contacts in this regard. “Ever since the inauguration of this political office, no one else has been granted permission to meet and discuss political affairs with anyone as a representative of the Islamic emirate without receiving prior authorisation by either the leader of Islamic emirate or the political office itself,” the statement from the Taliban leadership said.
Through statements the militant group has acknowledged contacts with Afghan lawmakers, notables and officials in Norway, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, but their silence on the Urumqi meeting and its tacit dismissal as unauthorised in the latest statement reflect their disquiet over the process facilitated by Pakistan.
The three Taliban representatives who met Mr Stanekzai have been identified in media reports as Pakistan-based former senior office-bearers Mullah Abdul Jalil, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani and Mullah Abdul Razaq.
It appears that Pakistan had been encouraging the Afghan government to open talks with the Pakistan-based faction, while bypassing the political office in Qatar.
Pakistan’s role in facilitating the reconciliation process has always been considered as crucial. But Pakistani officials have all along been cautioning about the limits of their influence on the Taliban.
The Voice of America, meanwhile, quoted senior government officials as having said that with the passage of time Pakistan’s leverage with the Taliban had “gradually shrunken because of the emergence of a new breed of insurgent field commanders”.
The officials insisted that many of these Taliban commanders “act independent of the Taliban’s political leadership and thus are making it difficult to bring them all on the same page for talks with the Kabul government”.