Senior Pakistani army and diplomatic officials yesterday said the Afghan Taliban have signaled through the Pakistani military that they are willing to open peace talks, which could be held later in the day.
Sources within the Afghan Taliban said their negotiators would hold the first round of peace talks with US officials in Qatar later yesterday, although no comment was immediately available from US or Qatari officials.
Previous efforts to negotiate an end to a war that began in late 2001 have proved fruitless, but the latest signals raised hopes of a much-needed boost for new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“The first session will take place today in Qatar and then there would be another session on Friday. Let us see what happens as talks before did not yield any results,” a senior member of the Afghan Taliban said by telephone from Qatar.
Bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table would be a major breakthrough in Afghan efforts to find a diplomatic solution to more than a decade of war following the withdrawal of most US-led troops last year.
A senior Pakistani military official earlier in the day said Pakistan’s army chief of staff, Raheel Sharif, told Ghani during a visit this week that the Taliban were willing to begin negotiations as early as next month.
“They have expressed their willingness and there will be progress in March. But these things are not so quick and easy,” the official, who is close to Sharif, said on condition of anonymity.
“But there are very clear signals ... and we have communicated it to the Afghans. Now many things are with the Afghans and they are serious,” the official said.
However, he said there was no firm timetable for the talks.
Other Taliban representatives had earlier denied they were willing to hold direct negotiations.
Three senior diplomats in the region confirmed the account of imminent talks based on briefings from people who were at the meeting between Ghani and Sharif on Tuesday.
“The venue is still to be decided. Preferably Islamabad, Kabul, Beijing or Dubai,” one diplomat in Kabul said.
He and other diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Ghani’s office did not directly refer to any talks in a statement it issued, but promised transparency.
“I will not conduct any negotiation in secret from my people and they will be informed of any development,” he was quoted as saying.
Attempts to get talks going in Qatar in 2013 came to nothing after the Afghan government objected to fanfare surrounding the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar.
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