KABUL: An Afghan delegation left for Qatar Saturday where they will hold two days of “open discussion” with Taliban representatives aimed at ending Afghanistan’s long war, according to an official.
“A 20-member Afghan delegation, two from the High Peace Council, left to attend talks in Qatar on Sunday and Monday,” Abdul Hakim Mujahid, first deputy of the council, told.
“It will be an open discussion, based on peace talks in Afghanistan,” Mujahid said, adding that representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban would be in attendance.
The High Peace Council was established by former Afghan president Karzai in 2010 to negotiate peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, but so far there has been very little progress.
The Taliban’s official spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed that an eight-strong Taliban delegation would attend the event, which is being organised by the Pugwash Council, a global organisation that promotes dialogue to resolve conflicts.
However, the Taliban’s attendance “does not mean peace talks or negotiations at all,” the Taliban’s spokesman cautioned. Previous efforts to open dialogue with the Taliban have collapsed.
The group opened an office in Qatar in June 2013 as the first move towards a possible peace deal, but it shut a month later after enraging then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai by styling itself as the unofficial embassy of a government-in-exile.
The Taliban have denied rumours of having previously engaged in talks with the Afghan government and have always insisted that this would only happen if foreign forces withdraw unconditionally from Afghanistan.
Last month the Taliban launched their spring offensive across Afghanistan, stepping up attacks on government and foreign targets and inflicting a heavy toll on civilians and Afghan security forces.
This year’s Taliban offensive marks the first fighting season in which Afghan forces will battle the insurgents without the full support of US-led foreign combat troops.
NATO’s combat mission formally ended in December but a small follow-up foreign force has stayed on to train and support local security personnel.