PESHAWAR: Taliban commanders refused to meet their former chief in Peshawar yesterday because he was accompanied by Pakistani security agents, dealing a blow to attempts to resume Afghan peace talks, security and militant sources said.
Afghanistan and the US believe Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, held in Pakistan since 2010, holds the key to stopping the war in Afghanistan because he can persuade his former comrades to stop fighting.
Pakistan announced his release on September 20 but Baradar, the former Afghan Taliban second-in-command, is in custody and watched closely by his Pakistani handlers, an arrangement which could undermine his role as a peacemaker.
An Afghan Taliban commander said Taliban figures refused to come to Peshawar to meet him because he was accompanied by security officials. “Following his release, he spent some time in Karachi and now arrived in Peshawar for meetings with senior members of the movement.
“Unfortunately, no one among senior Taliban leaders agreed to see him.”
It was unclear who Baradar wanted to meet and how long he would stay in Peshawar, a volatile city hit by attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group operating independently from their Afghan namesakes.
Security officials confirmed Baradar was in Peshawar for preliminary discussions about the peace process. Officially talks have yet to start and there is hope that formal discussions on the future of Afghanistan will resume once Baradar leaves Pakistan.
But many are sceptical, with the Taliban suspicious of a man seen as close to Pakistani authorities. “He isn’t a free man and that’s why people are afraid of meeting him,” said the Taliban official.
Baradar was once a close friend of the reclusive, one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar who gave him his nom de guerre, “Baradar” or “brother”.
He belongs to the same tribe as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and has once reached out to Kabul with a peace proposal.
Pakistan plays an important role in the process because it backed the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and has access to insurgent leaders who fled to Pakistan after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.
Afghanistan, which suspects its neighbour of trying to influence its affairs, wants Baradar to be handed over and believes he cannot be considered released as long as he is on Pakistani soil.
Another Taliban official said Baradar might be sent to Turkey and then to Saudi Arabia where the Taliban were planning to send a delegation for the annual Haj.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, said Islamabad is keen to pursue dialogue with the Taliban, despite a spate of bloody attacks in the country’s northwest. Three bombings in a week in Peshawar killed more than 140 people, mostly civilians, prompting many to question a government plan to seek peace with the militants.
“Despite these incidents the dialogue option should be pursued, because the Taliban are many groups and many of them have said they want to pursue dialogue,” he said. “There are some elements who want to disrupt the dialogue but the whole purpose of the dialogue is to put an end to such incidents.” Agencies