Saudi participation in Afghan talks significant — Ex-Taliban minister

Special Saudi participation in Afghan talks significant — Ex-Taliban minister
Seen here is former Taliban cabinet minister, Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim. Mutasim described the talks in the UAE as an important phase, reasoning that the process now enjoys support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the UAE. He also termed Pakistan’s participation in the talks and its role as important. (Photo courtesy: Mutasim’s website)
Updated 20 December 2018

Saudi participation in Afghan talks significant — Ex-Taliban minister

Saudi participation in Afghan talks significant — Ex-Taliban minister
  • Mutasim says details of the two-day talks will be clearer going forward
  • US special envoy to meet top leaders from all parties later today

ISLAMABAD: The two-day Afghan peace negotiations, which were held in the UAE, assumed importance because of Saudi Arabia’s participation as both the Taliban and the US acknowledge the Kingdom’s role in the talks, a former Taliban cabinet minister said on Thursday.
Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim, who had served as finance minister during the Taliban rule from 1996 until their ouster in 2001, said that the Taliban have a lot of respect for the Saudi leadership and its government, adding that role played by the Kingdom is the key to the success of the talks.
His comments came a day after the Taliban said that they had wrapped up the two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi with US representatives while reiterating their call for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US-appointed special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, led the US delegation and tweeted on Wednesday that the meetings with Afghan representatives and international had been productive.
Khalilzad, who proceeded to Afghanistan late on Wednesday after a brief stopover in Pakistan, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to discuss the details of the talks in Abu Dhabi and the next steps to be taken for an intra-Afghan dialogue. He is set to hold meetings with leaders from the civil society, political parties, and other stakeholders in Afghanistan later on Thursday.
Mutasim, who was one of the close confidantes of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, described the talks in the UAE as an important phase, reasoning that the process now enjoys support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the UAE. He also termed Pakistan’s participation in the talks and its role as important. 
When asked as to why the Taliban and the US did not reach an agreement, he said that the details of the discussion were unlikely to be made public and that things will be clearer going forward.
“Taliban want to progress on the release of prisoners, recognition of their political office, removing names of senior leaders from the UN sanctions list, and halt to air strikes and nights raids. These will be important confidence-building measures (CBM) ahead of the formal talks. The Taliban will show a positive response if the other side takes some CBMs,” he said.
He added that the UAE talks were mainly focused on building trust and that key issues like a cease-fire and elections will be discussed at a later stage.
Responding to queries seeking reasons for the Taliban’s refusal to talk to Afghan government negotiators — who were also present in Abu Dhabi — he said that both the US and other parties involved wanted the Kabul administration to join the process later.
“Some of the Taliban’s demands are related to the US such as the issue of foreign troops, air strikes, sanctions on the Taliban, and even the reopening of the office. So they await the US’ response first,” Mutasim said.
Mutasim, who has been involved in peace efforts from Turkey, the UAE, and Kabul, was shot and seriously injured in Karachi in 2011 and later moved to Turkey for treatment.
On its part, Washington has also urged the Taliban to reduce violence, avoid attacks in public places, and release foreign and Afghan prisoners in their custody, Mutasim — who once headed the powerful Taliban political commission — said.
Highlighting the difference in the talks held in Qatar and those in the UAE, he said that the presence of the Taliban’s senior leaders — including their former army chief Mullah Fazil and former interior minister Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa — had made the process important.