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Pakistani envoy on Afghanistan meets Taliban political chief in Doha

Pakistan’s point-man for the Afghanistan peace process, Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq, quietly visited Doha this week to meet with the Taliban’s political chief, Mullah Abdullah Ghani Baradar, to review progress and discuss the possible start of the intra-Afghan dialogue.

This was the first meeting between the newly appointed special representative of Pakistan on Afghanistan and the Taliban leadership based in Qatar’s capital.

Officials acquainted with Ambassador Sadiq’s visit said one of the main talking points of his meeting with the Taliban leadership was to discuss the preparations for the upcoming intra-Afghan dialogue.

“Pakistan considers Doha a convenient venue for intra-Afghan negotiations. However, it is for the stakeholders to make the final decision in this regard,” sources quoted Ambassador Sadiq as telling the Taliban.

The intra-Afghan dialogue was supposed to take place within days of the landmark deal signed between the United States and Taliban on February 29 in Doha.

Before the crucial parleys, the Afghan government and Taliban were to exchange prisoners – Kabul was to release 5,000 Taliban inmates while insurgents had to free 1,000 Afghan security personnel.

However, the process hit a roadblock when President Ashraf Ghani initially refused to abide by the prisoner swap clause between the US and Taliban.

Nonetheless, the US later successfully persuaded Ghani, and Kabul has thus far released 3,000 Taliban prisoners, while the remaining are to be freed before the start of intra-Afghan dialogue.

There was another positive development during the prisoner exchange, wherein Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, accompanied by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General Lt General Faiz Hameed and Ambassador Sadiq, recently visited Kabul.

The visit appeared to be an ice-breaking move. “The recent highly productive visit of the COAS to Kabul has given a new impetus to Pakistan’s efforts,” said a Foreign Office (FO) official familiar with the development.

The official said that Pakistan would continue to play the role of a  facilitator for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan.

“It was encouraging to note that the Taliban leadership was committed to the implementation of the accord signed on February 29 this year, which would pave the way for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan,” added the official.

According to the official, Mullah Baradar told Ambassador Sadiq that the release of prisoners, according to the February accord, would be a stepping stone to immediately start intra-Afghan negotiations.

Ambassador Sadiq, according to sources, expressed hopes that all parties concerned will sincerely make efforts for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan. “On its part, Government of Pakistan is fully committed to supporting the peace process,” he added.