Pakistan PM to Be First Head of State to Meet Taliban
Ayesha Tanzeem - VOA News
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Pakistan's prime minister is expected to become the first head of state to meet the Taliban leadership since the militant group's ouster from power in 2001. An Afghan official confirmed, on the condition of anonymity, that the move has the Afghan government's consent.
"It's coordinated with the Afghan side," the official said, adding that Pakistan was expected to brief the Afghan government after the meeting.
The news broke on Pakistan's state media early Thursday.
"Special Assistant to Prime Minister Naeem-ul-Haq has said Imran Khan will meet the Taliban leader soon for the peaceful resolution of Afghan crisis," a story published on Radio Pakistan's website said.
A similar meeting was set up in February in Islamabad but was canceled at the last minute after strong objections from the Afghan government. Haq said that a recent visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan, however, which both sides hailed as a success, helped in confidence-building.
The announcement Wednesday by Haq at a conference in Islamabad came on the same day that Pakistan also confirmed that Khan is scheduled to visit Washington for three days later this month and will meet President Donald Trump on July 22.
The development is seen in the region as signaling a thaw in a relationship that has been rocky since Trump came to power. Last year, the U.S. suspended more than $1.6 billion in security aid to Pakistan.
Talks with Taliban
The news about Khan's meeting also comes at a time when a U.S. team is holding its seventh round of negotiations with a Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar.
A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the two sides have made "spectacular progress" during the current round and completed "80 to 90 percent" of the work on a draft agreement to end the conflict that started in 2001.
At the same time, an intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha, hosted jointly by the Qatari and German governments, is scheduled for July 7-8.
Samim Arif, a deputy spokesman for Ghani, said a number of government officials will be among the 64 participants traveling from Kabul. He clarified, though, that the officials will be attending in their personal capacity.
So far, the Taliban leadership has refused to meet, in an official capacity, with the representatives of a government it calls a "puppet" of the Americans.
Atif Mashal, Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan, said keeping the government on board was key to progress in the peace process.
"If there is a dialogue between Afghans, in the region or outside, we have no problem with it. But, it will not help unless it has a clear agenda and is coordinated with the Afghan government," said Atif Mashal, Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan.
He emphasized, however, that in case of "negotiations," the Afghan government had to be a key participant.
The list of participants attending the Doha meeting includes women, civil society activists, and representatives of Afghan journalists.
Haji Deen Mohamamd, a deputy of the High Peace Council in Afghanistan, said four deputies of the High Council, as well as former national security adviser Dr. Rangeen Spanta and former deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, also will attend.
Former President Hamed Karzai, who led a similar conference in Moscow that excluded the Afghan government, will not attend the upcoming meeting, but he welcomed the intra-Afghan dialogue, according to his office.