In a breakthrough development, a faction of the Afghan Taliban has met with representatives of the Afghan government in Istanbul to pave the way for peace talks, a government official confirmed Sunday.
Mohammad Ismael Qasimyar , adviser on international affairs at the High Peace Council (HPC), a top government body tasked to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, told Anadolu Agency that presidential advisers Humayoun Jarir and Abbas Basir met representatives of the Taliban in Istanbul Saturday and Sunday for informal talks.
Welcoming this initiative without taking credit for organizing the meeting, he said this first contact would chalk out a strategy for formal talks and prepare a list of individuals who would attend it.
Jarir has family ties with former Mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who currently heads the Hezb-e-Islami (HI) party in Afghanistan.
Nadir Afghan, spokesman for the HI, said the party had not organized this session in Istanbul, but he acknowledged representation of the party in the talks.
HPC Spokesman Aminullah Muzaffari told Anadolu Agency in Istanbul that the meeting was held in order to open the way for formal and more comprehensive negotiations.
"The pro-peace groups as well as two groups from the Taliban took part in this meeting. Afghanistan’s High Peace Council will continue its efforts. We hope that positive results and peaceful decisions will be taken sooner,” said Muzaffari.
In June 2017, following his landmark return after some 20 years of self-imposed exile, the former Mujahedeen leader reaffirmed his support for the Kabul government led by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, with whom he inked a peace deal in September 2016. The 69-year-old now resides next to the headquarters of his political party in the heart of the capital, and has pledged on numerous occasions to mediate between the Taliban and the government.
Meanwhile, the main Taliban group's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed has denied their involvement in the talks meaning some breakaway factions such as the ‘Mullah Rasul’ group might be engaged in talks with the Afghan government.
The local Tolo News on Sunday quoted Jarir saying that the talks were unofficial and that they would discuss mechanisms to pave the ground for official talks between the two sides. "The Taliban members are representing Quetta Shura, Haqqani network and other factions of the Taliban," he said.
Mawlawi Abdul Rauf, head of the Taliban delegation, told Tolo News that talks would continue in Turkey to pave way for formal talks, and the Afghan government had shown flexibility in this regard.