Fri, 22 Mar 2019

The Taliban have called off a planned round of peace talks in Pakistan, saying that most of the members of its negotiating team are unable to travel because they are subject to U.S. and UN sanctions.

The statement was issued on February 17 a day before the militant group was scheduled to arrive in Islamabad to meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and possibly U.S. officials. It did not provide further details.

It came hours after Afghanistan issued a protest to the UN Security Council over the planned visit.

In a letter to the Security Council seen by RFE/RLs Radio Mashaal, the Afghan UN mission wrote that the Taliban-Pakistan meeting constitutes a violation of the national sovereignty of Afghanistan.

These engagements, which are taking place under the pretext of support for peace efforts in Afghanistan, are void of any degree of coordination and consultation with the government of Afghanistan, it said.

The letter said that an invitation by Khan for a Taliban delegation to travel to Pakistan for talks amounts to the official recognition and legitimization of an armed-group that poses a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan, and whose members are sanctioned by provisions of the UN Security Council's 1988 Committees Sanctions Regime.

The Taliban have a political office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where the negotiating team members live. However, the team includes at least five former inmates of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay and others linked to Afghan militant groups.

On February 7, the Afghan government issued a similar protest to the Security Council regarding a trip by Taliban members to Moscow for Russia-backed peace talks, charging that the Kremlin was allowing sanctioned individuals to enter the country for the session.

The Taliban trip to Pakistan would have coincided with a two-day visit to the South Asian country by powerful Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who arrived on February 17.

In the February 14 announcement about the planned session in Pakistan, the Taliban also said its negotiators would meet with U.S. officials. The United States had not commented on a potential meeting in Islamabad.

As an important player in the region and an Afghan neighbor, Pakistan is seen as potentially having a key role in any settlement.

But tensions run high between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kabul and Washington have accused Islamabad of providing safe havens for terrorists in its territory, allowing them to cross the border into Afghanistan and attack government troops and Western forces. Pakistan denies the allegations.

The discussions in Islamabad would have come a week before previously scheduled February 25 talks in Qatar between U.S. officials and Taliban negotiators.

Talks between U.S. officials -- including Zalmay Khalilzad, the special peace envoy for Afghanistan -- have intensified in recent months. Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators have both said progress has been made, but U.S. officials caution that much work needs to be done before an agreement can be finalized.

The U.S.-Taliban talks are aimed at finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan's 17-year war.

The United States has been attempting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with officials in Kabul.

The Afghan government has been absent from the U.S.-Taliban talks, prompting anger and frustration in Kabul. The Taliban considers the Kabul government a Western puppet and has so far refused to directly negotiate with it.

U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since an October 2001 invasion that brought down the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaida terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, blamed for launching the September 11, 2001, in the United States.

With reporting by AP and Tolo News RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

Radio Mashaal was launched in January 2010 in order to counter a growing number of Islamic extremist radio stations in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the border with Afghanistan.

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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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