ISLAMABAD (AP) — Three senior Taliban members traveled to Pakistan this week and held a series of meetings with Pakistani officials in Islamabad, mainly to brief them about the recent talks held in Qatar between the Taliban and Kabul, a senior Taliban official, an Afghan diplomat and a Pakistani official said Saturday.
The Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, said he was aware of the meetings but refused to offer details. "We know about these recent meetings but we don't know what was discussed between the Taliban and Pakistani officials," he said.
According to a senior Taliban official, the Taliban who were sent to Pakistan were Mullah Salam Hanifi and Mullah Jan Mohammed, both former ministers in the Taliban government, and Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
A senior Pakistani security official confirmed the latest meetings between the Taliban and Pakistani authorities, saying Islamabad is playing its role to ensure peace in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan has repeatedly said it will support any effort aimed at bring peace in Afghanistan.
"We will keep making efforts to facilitate talks between Kabul and the Taliban, as we did in July 2015, but the world knows who scuttled the peace process at the time and we do not want to discuss those bitter things," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media on the record on the issue.
Pakistan arranged the first ever face-to-face talks between Kabul and the Taliban in 2015, but the peace process broke down after the Afghan government announced the death years earlier of the Taliban's one-eyed founder and leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
In the time since, a leadership struggle within the Taliban's ranks broke into the open and Omar's successor was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan. The latest development came after Taliban and Afghan government officials held new secret talks in Qatar aimed at restarting peace negotiations to end the country's long war.
Pakistan was not involved in the talks and the Taliban said Pakistan was not aware of them until they were over.
Pakistan's foreign ministry said Thursday that Islamabad believes a four-country group comprising China, the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan and which was formed to help bring the Talban into dialogue with Kabul, is the best forum in which "Pakistan is ready to play its role." It said Pakistan would continue to back the "Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process."
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, angered by a series of attacks in Kabul he blamed on Taliban living in Pakistan, said he no longer wanted Pakistan involved in negotiations.
The former head of the Taliban's Doha office, Muhammad Tayyab Agha, sent a letter sent this month to the Taliban's new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, urging the movement leaders to leave Pakistan and break ties with Islamabad. The Afghan government and the United States have accused Pakistan of harboring the Taliban, including its fiercest faction, the Haqqani Network, blamed for some of the worst attacks, particularly in Kabul.
Agha's Pashtu language letter was given to Radio Free Europe's Pashtu-language Mashaal Radio on Thursday, after Akhundzada asked Agha to return to the Doha office.
In the letter, Aga said the Taliban leaving Pakistan would prevent Pakistan from interfering and would also benefit Pakistan, which is under increasing international pressure to help get the Taliban to the negotiating table and to force them out of Pakistan.
Agha's letter also urged the Taliban to drop reference to the Doha office as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and refer to the Taliban as a movement instead, bowing to one of the key demands of the Afghan government, which has refused to accept the Doha office as a government-in-exile.
Agha also said Akhundzada should drop the title Amir-ul-Momineen, or Leader of the Faithful, which had been adopted by Mullah Omar.
A major demand and one that would affect the Haqqani network was that the Taliban control "foreign fighters." He also wanted permission to devise a policy with consultations from not just religious leaders but also university professors and other elders. Another demand was to remove the Taliban's links to the Pakistani and Iranian intelligence agencies, a step likely to anger both countries. Agha also called for an end to attacks on mosques throughout the country.
Gannon reported from Sri Lanka