ISLAMABAD – Members of an Afghan delegation tasked to jumpstart peace talks with the Taliban are in Pakistan to meet with the group's former deputy leader, in an attempt to breathe life into the stuttering negotiations, Pakistani and Afghan officials said Wednesday.
Pakistan released the former Taliban No. 2, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in September after years of detention, a move that stirred hope among many Afghan and Pakistani officials that he could help forge a peace deal between the insurgents and the Afghan government. Others, including the Taliban, have expressed doubt Baradar will make the difference.
The government officials who said the delegation, the Afghan High Peace Council, was in Pakistan to meet with Baradar spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
The Afghan official said the delegation was in Islamabad and was headed by the council's chief, Salahuddin Rabbani, and another prominent member, Masoom Stanikzai. The Pakistani official refused to provide details.
Baradar was arrested in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010 in a joint operation with the CIA after he held secret peace talks with the Afghan government. The arrest outraged Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who immediately called for his release. Pakistan resisted for years, exacerbating already tense relations with neighboring Afghanistan.
After Baradar's release, the Afghan government pushed for a meeting between him and the peace council, hoping it would help the peace process.
But a senior Taliban official said in recent days that a meeting between Baradar and the High Peace Council wouldn't do any good, claiming the former deputy leader had no interest in holding discussions with Afghan officials. The Taliban official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to journalists.
The Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with Karzai, his government or its representatives. Attempts to open talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban in June ended in failure after Karzai accused the militants of setting up a government in exile and demanded they remove their flag and a sign identifying the movement as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban refused and closed their office in the Gulf state of Qatar.