December 16, 2020
By Charlotte Greenfield and Jibran Ahmed
ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR (Reuters) – A Taliban delegation will arrive in Pakistan’s capital on Monday for a three-day visit, according to official statements, as both sides in the Afghan peace process continue consultations during a break in negotiations.
The Taliban delegation, led by the militant group’s top political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is set to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and the foreign minister during the visit, according to a Pakistan foreign office statement.
Two Taliban political sources in Doha told Reuters they would also hold a meeting in Pakistan among their leadership.
The Taliban last visited Islamabad in August, just before the peace talks with the Afghan government began in Doha as the United States pushed for a political settlement while it withdraws troops from the war-torn country.
After reaching an agreement on procedural ground rules this month, negotiators representing the government and the Taliban are taking a break until Jan. 5 when they will continue to work on an agenda.
Diplomatic sources told Reuters that both sides will continue to consult with their leaderships and other key players over the break.
They added that the next stage will be very challenging as violence rises around the nation and the Afghan government calls for a ceasefire to be top of the agenda, while the Taliban says it should be discussed later.
The Taliban political sources said they would take up the issue of rising violence with their military leaders during their leadership meeting.
“Our field commanders started carrying out more attacks and it created problems for our office in Qatar; therefore our delegation would like to see them and discuss it with them,” one of the sources said, adding they would not request attacks stop entirely but explain the problems and suggest they slow.
A Taliban spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the London-based Overseas Development Institute, said the meeting of the wider Taliban leadership was key to moving forward.
“The Taliban have been able to skate by making almost no concessions…they won’t be able to get away with that for much longer, and building up a consensus about what they’ll agree to – or not – is now essential,” she said.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad and Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar; Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)