The Afghan Taliban have selected seven representatives living in Qatar to hold peace negotiations with the government soon, according to a former Taliban leader.
Five prisoners recently released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay would also possibly join the group of Taliban negotiators, Syed Akbar Agha, a former leader of Taliban's Jaish-ul-Muslimeen wing, told TOLO News channel.
“The Taliban have allowed their representatives in Qatar to lead these (peace) talks, and the talks are expected to be commenced soon in coming days," Agha was quoted as saying by the channel.
His remarks came against the backdrop of several reports that Pakistan’s military establishment has been pushing the Afghan Taliban to hold talks with the new government led by President Ashraf Ghani. The reports said Ghani had also enlisted the support of China, a key ally of Pakistan.
Syed Tayyab Agha and Mawlawi Shahabuddin Dilawar, who were the chief justice and the ambassador to Pakistan respectively under the erstwhile Taliban regime, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai and Qari Din Mohammad are among the negotiators chosen by the Taliban.
“Taliban have already selected their representatives for the peace talks and they are…seven to eight people," Agha said.
Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar, who is in Qatar to prepare the grounds for the peace talks, has met that country's premier, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
However, reports said the main purpose of Atmar's visit was to hold a meeting with the five Taliban members who were recently released from the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Khaama Press, a leading Afghan news portal, reported that a delegation of Taliban leaders affiliated with the group’s political office in Qatar is due to visit Pakistan soon to hold talks on the proposed peace dialogue and the reopening of the Taliban office in Qatar.
Qari Din Mohammad and Abbas Stanekzai are expected to be part of the delegation that will visit Pakistan. Din Mohammad, who led a team of negotiators for meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing in November, recently visited Pakistan in connection with the proposed talks.
These developments have come at a time when President Ghani has accelerated peace efforts by holding consultations with different groups, including the High Peace Council.
Following apparent progress on the proposed peace talks, Ghani recently had a telephone conversation with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and informed him about the latest developments. Ghani welcomed Islamabad's role in bringing Taliban to the negotiating table and hoped the talks would begin in the near future.
However, Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid rejected reports that his group had agreed to hold preliminary peace talks with the Afghan government.
“There have been many rumors swirling around in the media lately about the latest developments in Afghanistan and negotiations with the Kabul administration. These are nothing more than the views and assumptions of these outlets,” he said in a statement.
“We have repeatedly declared that every report which is not published or confirmed by the official channels of Islamic Emirate are false and hold no value.”