Alwaght- In parallel with internal debates over the formation of intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban militants, recently, a high-level delegation from the group, led by political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, left for Islamabad upon the invitation of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry to hold talks with Pakistani officials.
The Taliban delegation, will discuss with Pakistan’s leaders the “recent developments in Afghanistan’s peace process,” as well as “relaxation and facilitation of people’s movement and trade between the two neighboring countries,” tweeted Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban political office. He provided no further details such as the introduction of Pakistani leaders visiting the Taliban delegation or the duration of the trip. Although, a senior official of Pakistan's Foreign Ministry told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity that the Taliban delegation was expected to hold meetings with "Pakistan's civilian and military leadership".
In this connection, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters that he would meet with the Taliban delegation on Tuesday. "From the start, Pakistan has taken the position that a lasting and permanent solution can only be achieved through dialogue overseen by the Afghans," Qureshi said during the meeting. "The Taliban leadership thinks that Pakistan has played a positive role in bringing peace in Afghanistan," he said, adding that the only way forward was through dialogue. According to the Foreign Office, Qureshi "emphasized the implementation of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement, in its entirety, paving the way for the earliest possible commencement of Intra-Afghan negotiations". He said that Pakistan had continued to play its role in the peace process under a shared responsibility, the efforts of which paid off when the US and Taliban signed the peace deal in Doha in February. He expressed hope that the Afghan leadership would take full advantage of the "rare opportunity" in the form of the peace agreement.
Intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban militants was part of an agreement signed between the group and the United States in February. It was expected to begin on August 20 after months of delay, but was delayed again due to a dispute over the release of prisoners.
Under the leaked sections, the Taliban are committed to not attack foreign forces and fight terrorism (not support terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda) and negotiate with the government for peace in exchange for the release of their members and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
It has been anticipated that American soldiers will retreat, and by November, their number is forecast to reach less than 5,000. On the other hand, according to local media, Afghanistan has released 4,600 Taliban prisoners so far, in addition to this, 500 of the prisoners were not on the Taliban list. However, the Taliban has called for the release of 400 other prisoners, which 44 of them are on the list of terrorists whom have played a special role in attacks against foreign forces.
The release of 400 insurgents led to the rally of thousands of Afghan citizens opposed to the move against Ashraf Ghani, so the government formed the Consultative Loya Jirga, the Grand Tribal Assembly, to take responsibility for the decision. Finally, the assembly approved the release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners. However, the government later announced that the Taliban continued to hold Afghan troops and halted the release of Taliban prisoners. Kabul is pushing for the Taliban to release 22 Afghan commandos they captured, while the Taliban are demanding for the release of the Taliban’s final 320 prisoners in Afghan jails. The Taliban have kept their promise not to attack US and NATO forces, but they carry out attacks on Afghan government forces almost daily. They say a permanent ceasefire will be part of the deal once negotiations begin.
Under these circumstances, it is still unclear how Pakistan can break the deadlock.
It is no secret that Islamabad has considerable influence on and closeness to the Afghan Taliban, however, some members of the movement, such as Mullah Baradar, are distrustful of Pakistan. Mullah Baradar, who spent eight years in Pakistani prisons, had an unpleasant relationship with Islamabad until his release in 2018. This is Mullah Baradar's second visit to Pakistan in 10 months. He visited Islamabad in October last year when President Donald Trump suddenly cut off peace talks with the Taliban.
In December 2018, Pakistan staged unprecedented direct talks between Washington and the Taliban, paving the way for a long-term conflict settlement through negotiation.
Pakistan also played a role in the first round of direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015.
This process began after the Taliban announced the death of its longtime leader, Mullah Omar. But this process was blocked by the killing of Mullah Omar's successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in a US drone strike on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2016.
Pakistan is now seeking to reaffirm its influential and beneficial role in the Afghan peace talks, support peace, end insecurity in the country, both for Afghans and the international community, and to also improve the tense relationship it has had with the White House in recent years through diplomatic support for the strategy of the White House in Afghanistan in favor of gaining Trump's attention.
The recent visit of Taliban officials to Islamabad can be influential in many ways. Firstly, the meeting comes a day after the Taliban leader designates a powerful team of negotiators, including almost half of the Taliban leadership council, which has the power to set the agenda, decide on strategy, and even sign agreements with the government in Kabul. Secondly, Islamabad has many special and secret relations with various movements in the Taliban, especially its military and intelligence services. If Pakistan tends to support Government-Taliban negotiations, they could be effective in persuading the Taliban to start negotiations.
Obviously, Pakistan welcomes the Taliban's presence and participation in the official arena of power in Afghanistan, but in the meantime, the Taliban see negotiating with the government more as a tactic to seize full power and establish the Islamic Emirate as its long-term strategy in Afghanistan.