Afghan team in Dubai to meet Taliban figures
Dubai, February 17, 2014
A delegation from Afghanistan's High Peace Council has travelled to Dubai to meet former and current Taliban figures, in the hope of laying the groundwork for peace talks to end Afghanistan's long conflict, sources familiar with the move told Reuters.
Officials led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a senior aide to President Hamid Karzai, travelled on Sunday to the UAE, officials from the High Peace Council and the Afghan government confirmed.
The delegation planned to meet a group of Taliban figures led by Agha Jan Mutassim, who was a finance minister during the Taliban's 1996-2001 government, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
The trip comes on the heels of a gathering Mutassim recently convened in Dubai, which Afghan officials said included 16 high-ranking former and current Taliban figures, the officials said, including six former Taliban ministers and half a dozen men said to be current commanders in the militant group.
After that meeting, Mutassim, who was once a powerful figure in the Taliban's political committee but whose links to the group are now unclear, said in a statement that the participants had "insisted in one voice on a discussion among all Afghans, and the need to find a peaceful solution."
While the Peace Council delegation travelled to Dubai because the Taliban figures indicated they would be willing to meet with Afghan government representatives - an unusual move for any member of the Taliban - it was not clear whether all of the participants would follow through, the officials said.
If the Peace Council delegates do hold talks with the Taliban figures it could mark a step forward in the Karzai government's efforts to kindle dialogue with important members of an insurgency that has lasted for more than 12 years.
It would also be a personal vindication for Karzai, long displeased by the Taliban leadership's willingness to hold talks only with Western or Arab officials, as he prepares to step down after April elections.
For years, the Taliban's reclusive leadership, believed to be located in Pakistan under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar, has refused to negotiate directly with the government of Karzai, whom the Taliban says is an illegitimate leader.
The Karzai government has held informal talks with Taliban figures since 2001, but appears to have renewed its effort to establish a substantial dialogue with key militant representatives in recent months. - Reuters