KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan Taliban will send representatives to a conference organized by an international crisis group that will discuss resolving the war in Afghanistan, the group said in a statement on Friday.
Representatives of the Taliban's "political office" will attend the conference on Saturday in Qatar's capital, Doha, organized by Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a Nobel peace prize-winning group focused on resolving conflict. The conference is "aimed at finding a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan," now in its 15th year.
It is not part of the official peace process, which recently restarted after being derailed in July when the Afghan government revealed that the Taliban's founder and leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead since early 2013.
The official, four-country initiative, involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, is due to hold its third meeting in Islamabad on February 6. The meetings do not include Taliban representatives, but aim to lay the groundwork for an eventual dialogue between militants and the Kabul government.
Referring to itself as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," the Taliban said the group sought to take "healthy advantage" of the Pugwash initiative to "relay the legal demands of our nation and our just policy to the world directly."
The conference was "purely for research purposes with academic debates," it said.
Last year, a similar event organized by Pugwash was attended by Afghan officials, though they came in a personal capacity and didn't represent the government.
Political analyst Waheed Muzhda, who was an official in the Taliban's 1996-2001 administration, said the conference would not discuss the peace process but would instead focus on "current circumstances in Afghanistan."
Members of the Taliban's Doha office are believed to be directly linked to the current leader of the group, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Mansoor was Omar's deputy and took over when his death was revealed, said Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, another independent political analyst.
"The conference will be comprehensive and likely concentrate on details regarding the peace process and possible negotiations for an end to the war," he said, adding that some Afghan parliamentarians and civil society representatives would also participate, albeit in a private capacity.
But Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told The Associated Press that no government representatives would attend the Pugwash gathering.
Also Friday, Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, said it had arrested eight people connected with the Haqqani network, a brutal insurgent group closely affiliated with the Taliban, in connection with a Wednesday attack on employees of a major television station.
The attack killed at least seven employees of a production company owned by Moby Group, Afghanistan's biggest television network. They were being taken home in a Moby mini-bus when it was rammed by an explosives-packed vehicle. Another 25 people were wounded.
The Taliban — which had threatened Moby's Tolo TV and another private station, 1 TV, over coverage — claimed responsibility for the attack. It said that Tolo had been the target, and reiterated its threats against both stations.
The threats were linked to a report Tolo TV broadcast about alleged Taliban activities in Kunduz, a northern city that the insurgents held for three days in late September.
Meanwhile in Gardez, capital of restful Paktya province bordering Pakistan, shops remained shuttered for a second consecutive day after gunmen stormed a money exchange market and stole five million afghani ($73,000) on Wednesday, an official said.
Naqib Ahmad Atal, the provincial governor's spokesman, said local authorities had given businessmen a guarantee of their security, but he could not say when the market would re-open.
Assocated Press writer Lynne O'Donnell in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this story.