Mutasem Agha Jan, the head of Taliban Political Committee, said on Tuesday that peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban would recommence soon, signaling the first major sign of hope for a process that has been stalled since June.
With President Hamid Karzai away in London to participate in trilateral talks with Britain and Pakistan launched for the purpose of getting peace negotiations with the Taliban back on track, Agha Jan’s statement on Tuesday came as a welcomed surprise.
Many experts have grown doubtful of any reconciliation deal being struck between the militants and Kabul before the spring elections or the withdraw of foreign troops in 2014. However, Agha Jan leant credence to his claims by asserting that his authority to move the peace talks forward came on behalf of the Taliban’s supreme leader, the reclusive Mullah Omar.
The High Peace Council (HPC) was highly positive about the announcement, suggesting it was reliable signal that tangible gains in the peace process were soon to come.
“He doesn’t only speak for himself, he talks on behalf of the Taliban’s top commander Mullah Omar, and Omar is the leader of the Taliban group, so it’s really positive and we support it,” said HPC spokesman Maulavi Shahzada Shahid.
Agha Jan said the Taliban’s renewed willingness to come to the negotiating table was based on their desire to bring the country out of crisis and establish longstanding peace in Afghanistan.
“Taliban are ready for a ceasefire, we don’t support war,” he said. “All, including the Taliban, have paid a major price in the war.”
The Taliban political leader’s comments fly in the face of the fears of many Afghan and foreign officials and experts who have suggested the insurgent group is looking to derail the upcoming elections. Nevertheless, those fears are based on the observation of action, like the recent assassination of the Kunduz IEC Chief and abduction of five IEC officials in Faryab province. For now, the Taliban’s commitment to peace remains rhetorical.
That does not mean Agha Jan’s announcement on Tuesday was not a major break for the process that has been stagnant since an attempts at talks floundered in Qatar nearly five months ago. As the HPC’s remarks indicate, a statement of willingness and expectation that talks will begin soon is a major step.
Over the past months, the Afghan government has been focusing on making inroads with Pakistan in hopes of getting it to help get the peace process rolling. Those efforts have not seen much success, as Karzai’s request to have Taliban leader Mullah Baradar released from prison was agreed to by Islamabad, but then never carried through.
That issue was expected to be an item of discussion this week between Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London.
Members of the Afghan government and their unofficial delegates have reportedly been engaged in backroom communication with the Taliban in hopes of kick-starting the peace process. Whether or not that behind-the-scenes dialogue played a part in Agha Jan speaking up on Tuesday is uncertain.
One of the major reasons Karzai government officials have been so eager to make progress on the peace process, other than the fact that Karzai will not be in a position to do so after the election in April, is that the NATO combat mission ends in December of 2014. The departure of coalition troops from Afghanistan has led to a significant amount of hand-wringing about a potential security vacuum that could mean a death blow to the still fledgling Kabul regime that has been in place since 2003.
Although not likely in favor of a continued presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, Agha Jan also expressed concerns about the stability of the country in the coming years.
“We have major concerns, and history shouldn’t be repeated,” he said. “Afghanistan should not slide back into a chaotic era as we witnessed following the collapse of President Najbullah when various groups engaged in bloody wars and Afghanistan was devastated.”
Incidentally, the Taliban was the group that brought that era of “blood wars” to an end.
Agha Jan served as the Minister of Finance during the Taliban regime. He was blacklisted by the U.S. two years ago. Around that time he was injured and left Afghanistan for Turkey to seek medical treatment. He has been residing there ever since.