PESHAWAR, KABUL: Afghan Taliban leaders on Tuesday called for the immediate release of the son of a late militant chief, to allow him to take part in crucial peace talks.
Anas Haqqani, whose father Jalaluddin was the prominent commander of the Haqqani insurgency network behind numerous attacks on US and Afghan forces, appeared on a list of names of Taliban representatives to attend the next round of negotiations with US diplomats aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has named 14 delegates, led by Sher Abbas Stanekzai, to join talks slated for Feb. 25 in Doha. However, the negotiating team includes Anas Haqqani who is currently being held in an Afghan jail, and the group has demanded he be freed in time for the peace talks.
Haqqani was arrested during an overseas visit and has been kept behind bars since 2014, but his role in the network is not clear.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said: “Anas should be freed because he was a student and was arrested by Americans during a trip to Jordan. He has not committed any crime. He is a member of the negotiators’ team and the Americans should free him,” Mujahid told Arab News.
Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, confirmed that Haqqani was being held by Kabul but said the government had no immediate plans to release him. “Anas Haqqani is in prison and no decision has been taken about his freedom,” Chakhansuri said.
Mujahid said the US had yet to announce the names of its negotiators but added that the two sides were in contact with each other.
The Taliban team named for the Doha talks consists of chief negotiator Stanekzai, Maulvi Zia-ur-Rehman Madni, Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanfi, Sheikh Shahabuddin Dilawar, Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor, Mullah Abdul Manan Umari, Maulvi Amir Khan Mutaqi, Mullah Muhammad Fazil Mazloom, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Maulvi Mati-ul-Haq, Mullah Muhammad Anas Haqqani, Mullah Noorullah Noori, Maulvi Muhammad Nabi Umari and Maulvi Abdul Haq Wasiq.
Ghani, whose government up until now had been sidelined from the peace discussions on the insistence of the Taliban, is aiming to secure a second term in office at the presidential polls in July.
Washington wants to allow the peace talks with the Taliban to succeed so that the group can also participate in the election process at a later stage, a point US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, hinted at in his last trip to the region.
Mujahid said that it was too early for the Taliban to say if the group would be participating in the presidential ballot, unless a peace deal is struck.
“I can’t say anything at this point. We will take a decision once the talks yield results,” the Taliban spokesman added.
He said any polls held under “occupation” would be “bogus” and “have no result.”
The focus of recent rounds of US-Taliban talks has been on the withdrawal of troops from the country, with Taliban officials pledging not to allow Afghan soil ever again to be used against US interests.
The success of the latest discussions in Doha is seen as vitally important to the peace process, as it will be followed in March by another meeting involving Taliban emissaries and influential Afghan politicians, including two presidential nominees.
The first major get-together of Taliban and Afghan politicians was last week in Moscow, where the sides agreed on a complete pullout of foreign troops.
According to media reports, Khalilzad on Sunday embarked on a fresh round of diplomatic trips lasting until Feb. 28 and involving visits to countries including Pakistan, Germany, Qatar, Turkey and Afghanistan, to discuss the Trump administration’s aim of seeking a negotiated settlement to the long-running Afghan war.
Khalilzad had hoped that a peace agreement could be reached before Afghanistan’s presidential ballot. However, he had said that there is still a long way to go before a final deal is signed.