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Afghan Taliban to respond positively to American peace envoy

13 October, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban will respond positively to suggestion by top American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, about the formation of a team for talks with the United Sates, Taliban leader Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim said on Friday.

Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, had urged the Taliban and the Afghan government to form an authorised team of negotiators for peace talks during his visit to Kabul this week.

The High Peace Council (HPC), responsible for peace process, says it will form inclusive negotiating team, according to reports.

Mutasim, who once headed the Taliban political committee, argues that the Taliban are likely to include senior officials and members from the powerful leadership council in the negotiation team for formal talks with the US.

The US and Taliban officials met in Qatar in July and had agreed to continue the process. Khalilzad is likely to oversee the dialogue process with the Taliban.

“As the US has now opened direct meetings with the Taliban to find out a political solution to the Afghan conflict and Khalilzad has suggested the Taliban and the Afghan government to form teams for dialogue, the Taliban will also form a team as they also favour political solution,” Mutasim told Daily Times from Kabul.

Mutasim, who had been a close confidant of Mullah Omar, added: “The Taliban’s real problem is with the Americans and that is the presence of foreign forces. The Taliban give top priority to this issue. They also want removal of the names of their leaders from the sanctions list and this is also related to the Americans as the Kabul administration has no powers in these issues.”

He went on to say that the Taliban had not started this war rather it was imposed on them. “If the US intends to end the war, I am confident both (US and Taliban) can reach an understanding to end the conflict in direct talks,” Mutasim said.

Asked if the Afghan government would endorse the Taliban-US direct talks, the Taliban leader said all Afghans wanted to put an end to the war.

“All political leaders, former Mujahideen leaders, political parties, elders and the public are eager to see peace and they will support any deal between the Taliban and the US,” he said.

When asked about the reports that the Afghan officials have met the Taliban leaders in Saudi Arabia over security of the upcoming parliamentary elections, he said that the reports were false. “Taliban have respect for Saudi Arabia and recognise the kingdom’s role and if there are talks in Saudi Arabia that will be open.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Khalilzad in Riyadh and reviewed bilateral relations between the two friendly countries as well as efforts exerted on the Afghan arena,” Saudi Press Agency reported.

The meeting was attended by a number of officials, including Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

The US envoy, who earlier held talks in Islamabad on his peace mission this week, is on his first visit to five countries to explore options for political solution to the problem.

To a question about the Taliban contacts with Russia and Iran, Mutasim did not rule out Taliban contacts with both countries but said that the “US-imposed war had forced the Taliban to develop relations with all those who are anti-US”.

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