Diplomacy

Taliban leaders head to Islamabad for talks amid renewed sanctions

By Alam Zeb Khan and AFP

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Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi welcomed the Afghan Taliban delegation in Islamabad on Tuesday (August 25). [Pakistani Foreign Office]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has invited key members of the Taliban's negotiating team to Islamabad, where senior officials this week will press them on the importance of starting peace talks.

The meetings come at a crucial time in Afghanistan's conflict, with talks once again stalled amid a controversial prisoner swap and as Pakistan highlights United Nations (UN) sanctions against the militant group.

"The delegation is in Islamabad, and we will have a round of talks with them tomorrow as part of efforts aimed at [building] mutual confidence," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Monday (August 24).

The Taliban and the Afghan government had signalled they were prepared to start talks immediately after Eid, which ended earlier this month, but the process remains bogged down over a prisoner exchange.

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Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (left) speaks during a press conference in Islamabad on August 24. Pakistan has invited key members of the Taliban's negotiating team to Islamabad, where senior officials this week will press them on the importance of starting peace talks, Qureshi said. [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

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Taliban prisoners pose during the process of potential release from Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul on July 31. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on July 31 ordered the release of 500 Taliban prisoners. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Kabul has released about 4,680 insurgent prisoners, while the Taliban say they have freed 1,000 members of Afghan security forces, broadly fulfilling an agreement outlined in a deal reached between the United States and the militant group.

However, the swap has stumbled over the final few hundred prisoners, with Kabul reluctant to release what it says are dangerous Taliban fighters tied to deadly attacks.

Qureshi said Islamabad had invited the Taliban to Pakistan to stress the importance of talks, saying negotiations were the "the only way forward" in Afghanistan.

"This is for Afghans to reconcile, and our task is that of facilitator," he added.

"The main objective is to secure peace, and the next phase should be the start of intra-Afghan dialogue."

Last October, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- the Taliban's co-founder who spent eight years in Pakistani custody -- led a delegation to Islamabad ahead of a deal that the insurgents signed in February with Washington.

Islamabad has said its influence over the Taliban encouraged the militants to join talks with the United States.

On Sunday (August 23), Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that Baradar and other negotiators would discuss "recent developments in Afghanistan's peace process, relaxation and facilitation of peoples' movement and trade between the two neighbouring countries."

Sanctions renewed

The Taliban visit comes as the Pakistani government reiterates sanctions against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

Pakistan issued an SRO (Statutory Regulatory Order) showing its compliance with UN Security Council sanctions against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, according to a document published on the Foreign Office's website August 18.

Another SRO issued the same day detailed travel restrictions, arms embargoes and the freezing of funds and other financial resources of individuals and entities associated with al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The SRO "consolidates and documents the previously announced SROs as a procedural measure and does not reflect any change in the Sanctions List or sanction measures", a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on August 21.

"It is the UN Security Council Taliban Sanctions Committee that deals with the sanctions on the Taliban and entities and individuals associated with them," he said.

"Upon any change by the Committee, all states including Pakistan implement these sanctions, which include asset freezes, arms embargoes and travel bans," he added.

Pakistan made the move to meet the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), according to some officials.

The Paris-based inter-governmental organisation in June 2018 placed Pakistan on its so-called grey list for failing to take action against money laundering and terror financing.

It extended a deadline for Islamabad to complete an action plan aimed at meeting the FATF's requirements to September.

The National Assembly on July 29 and the Senate on July 30 passed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Amendment Bill, 2020, and the Anti-Terrorism Act Amendment Bill, 2020.

The new legislation includes measures to enable Pakistan's government to enact asset freezes, travel bans and arms embargoes on entities and individuals designated by the UN. They cover heavy fines and long-term prison sentences for those facilitating militancy.

UNSC resolutions 1267 and 1373 require member states to implement counter-terrorism measures, including the countering of terror financing through their domestic laws. This obligation is implemented in Pakistan through the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

"It was necessary for the FATF-related bills to pass in parliament for the removal of Pakistan from the global financial watchdog's grey list," Qureshi said during a news conference after the National Assembly session on July 29.

Pressuring the Taliban

The timing of the SROs raises questions over Pakistan's efforts to facilitate peace in Afghanistan.

Shaheen, the spokesman for the group's political office in Qatar, has expressed reservations over the documents, said Tahir Khan, an Islamabad-based journalist.

Shaheen has said the new situation may spoil the peace process as a travel ban could prevent the Taliban from expediting the process, according to Khan.

"It may spur mistrust as [Pakistan is] facilitating peace talks and at the same time talking about a ban," said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan.

"The Afghan Taliban have had reservations in the past, particularly during the [Pervez] Musharraf regime, and now if a situation of mistrust occurs, it will just add insult to injury," Shah said.

Musharraf led Pakistan from 1999 to 2008 after taking power in a coup.

The Taliban are engaged in peace talks, and if they face further restrictions from Pakistan, they will tilt toward China, Iran, Russia or Turkey, he said.

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Apparently, Pakistan has announced sanctions against Taliban, but in reality Pakistan is supporter and financier of Taliban. Pakistan funds eighty percent of Taliban's military expenses.

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The Afghan people will not believe in the peace of Taliban as long as Taliban do not sever their ties with Pakistan, because Pakistan is the enemy of Afghanistan and this country is considered the cause for all the forty-year misfortunes of Afghanistan. If Taliban are really Afghans and not slaves of Pakistan, they should free themselves from the captivity and slavery of Pakistan.

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Taliban should become clever and should not be deceived by Pakistan. Pakistan does not give right consultations to Taliban leaders. If Taliban have very little reason or intellect, they should cut their ties with Pakistan, because it was Pakistan that caused the defeat of Taliban and allowed the United States to invade Afghanistan from its territory and overthrow Taliban’s regime. All the supplies of foreign forces came to Afghanistan from Pakistan. If Pakistan has not allowed the United States to enter Afghanistan through this country twenty years ago, the United States would not be able to occupy Afghanistan, because other neighbors of Afghanistan would not do so. Iran, China, and other Central Asian countries which are under the influence of Russia would never have given bases to the United States to invade Afghanistan from there.

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Pakistani government does not let Taliban make peace with the Afghan government. The strategic depth of Islamabad is in the war of Afghanistan, because the forty-year long war of Afghanistan made Pakistan a nuclear power of the world. Pakistan took eighty percent of all the aids that the international community donated to the Mujahedeen of Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet invasion, and distributed the remaining 20 percent to Mujahedeen. If not, Pakistan had nothing. At that time, Pakistan was a very poor country and was weak militarily as well. This country even could not compete with Afghanistan. It accepted all the demands of Afghanistan. They were accepting whatever the Afghan government telling them, but unfortunately after the Afghan government, which was under the leadership of Dr. Najibullah, fell and Mujahedeen took over power in Afghanistan, all the infrastructures of Afghanistan were destroyed, and Mujahedeen transferred all the military equipment to Pakistan. Pakistan is now afraid of peace in Afghanistan, and it is trying to disrupt the process of the intra-Afghan talks. That’s why it invited Taliban officials based in Qatar to Islamabad.

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Afghanistan has turned into a battleground for proxy war between Pakistan and India. There are the interests of Pakistan and India in the war and peace of Afghanistan. India says if peace is made with Taliban and war reduces in Afghanistan, this will intensify the war in Kashmir. That’s why the Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan meets daily with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan and officials of the Afghan government, and shares his concern with them in this regard. And on the other side, Pakistani officials are in contact with Taliban leaders, and they say that any government that is formed in Afghanistan should not implement India's programs in Afghanistan, and it should not be under the influence of India. And there is no doubt that the government of Afghanistan is working under the influence of India, and everything that India tells the Afghan officials, they do it. And Taliban are under the influence of Pakistan. Taliban cannot do anything without the permission of Pakistan.

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Taliban's leaders have to be ashamed and leave slavery of Pakistan. For how long they will be acting on the commands of Pakistani government. They have to prove their independence and make independent decision, not in a way that pleases Pakistan.

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