In a major development in the facilitation of the Afghan peace process, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani have discussed some ‘useful proposals’ to help push the ‘direct talks’ likely to start between the Afghan Taliban and Afghan government in a week’s time or two, Pakistan Today has learnt.
A well placed source said that like Pakistan, Qatar is also playing a key role in facilitating the peace process.
“The army chief’s visit to Doha reflects a major shift in the peace process. It means that from now on, Pakistan will take a back seat in the peace process while Qatar will be given the lead role. From now on, Taliban’s official office in Qatar will be the mouthpiece in official talks with the Afghan government,” the source added.
Asked to elaborate, the source said that Pakistan wanted the Afghan peace process to gain momentum now.
“Since Pakistan has played its role in bridging the gulf between the Afghan Taliban, United States of America (USA), the Afghan government and China, it is time to start the official talks. Hence, the Taliban’s office in Doha will play a lead role in this regard,” the official said.
The source added that Qatar government would play lead role now in talks as Pakistan wanted talks may not be made controversial.
“Since Dr Ashraf Ghani is under pressure from his opponents on Pakistan’s role in the talks, Pakistan has decided to allow Qatar to play a lead role in holding official talks. It will also help facilitate functioning of the Taliban’s Qatar office. From now on, Taliban will receive some concessions from the Americans while the United Nations may also lift some sanctions on the Afghan Taliban as a confidence building measure (CBM),” the source added.
An official handout issued by the media wing of the armed forces, ISPR, also hinted at facilitation of the peace process by the Taliban’s Qatar office.
“During the meetings with the Emir and the PM, matters related to regional security and enhanced bilateral defence cooperation came under discussion. Facilitation of reconciliation process in Afghanistan through the Qatar office was discussed in detail,” the statement added.
NO IMMEDIATE BREAKTHROUGH:
Afghan Affairs analyst Rustam Shah Mohmand, however, believes that no immediate breakthrough is in sight until and unless the Afghan Taliban are given concessions by the US and the UN.
“While the Quadrilateral meeting may take place soon in Kabul, no headway is likely. Pushing Taliban for talks won’t work. Now Pakistan’s establishment is also realizing the fact that bringing Taliban to the table by pressure tactics will not work. The US needs to create enabling environment for peace talks,” the former ambassador said.
Mohmand explained that Taliban were gaining more ground in Afghanistan despite the fact that the Spring Offensive had yet to be launched.
“Taliban are gaining ground in the ongoing fighting in Kunduz, Helmend and other places. The US and UN need to deliver at least some of the demands put forth by Taliban as a CBM,” he added.
He said that Taliban have asked the US to give a definitive timetable for troops withdrawal, the fate of the Afghan government, consensus on a future roadmap for Afghanistan, release of Taliban detainees and the abolition of the blacklist.
“China has a decisive role to play in these talks as Taliban have faith in the Chinese leadership. Otherwise, even the Qatar office will not be able to deliver,” he added.
DEFENCE COOPERATION WITH QATAR:
The source said that the army chief also discussed the sale by Pakistan of military equipment to the Qatari government, including the JF-17 Thunder jets.
Like other Middle Eastern states, Qatar also faces a threat from the militant outfits, including the Islamic State (IS).
The handout said that the army chief had also held meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Naseer Bin Khalifa Al-Thani as well as Qatar’s minister of the interior.