Taliban denies holding Afghan peace talks with Pakistan

Indo Asian News Service

Islamabad, March 24 (IANS) The Taliban group on Friday denied reports that its representatives visited Islamabad to discuss the prospect of holding peace talks with Kabul.

"We strongly reject (the media reports) because none of our leaders has travelled to Islamabad, nor has met any official there," the Voice of America quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as saying.

His statement came a day after the media reported that Islamabad hosted seven Taliban leaders here to press the insurgents to return to peace talks with the Afghan government.

The Taliban have long refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, calling it a "puppet" of the US, the VOI reported.

Pakistan in July 2015 brokered and hosted a meeting between Taliban and Afghan officials, but the revelation that the group's supreme leader Mullah Omar had been dead for two years disrupted the peace process.

According to a senior Pakistani government official, they were unaware of any such "visit or talks".

"Pakistan is trying to distance itself from hosting Afghan peace talks and would instead prefer they are held in a country acceptable to all the parties," the official maintained.

Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have deteriorated in recent years because of Taliban-led attacks in Afghanistan, for which the Afghan government has blamed insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan.

Speaking in Washington earlier this week, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani insisted Kabul has kept the doors for peace negotiations open to Taliban, but accused Islamabad of hindering efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

"Pakistan's reluctance to end its support for terrorism underpins the continuation of violence in Afghanistan and the region... A paradigm shift in Pakistan is needed if any progress is to be made in peace efforts with the Taliban," Rabbani said.

Russia has recently stepped in to try to promote Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts through a multinational dialogue.

Moscow plans to host another round of the discussions next month with officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran and China to further the process.

Mujahid did not outright deny reports that his group may attend a Moscow meeting, if invited.

"When an invitation is extended to us, only then we can consider it and comment on it," he said.

The US was also among the invitees, along with several Central Asian nations, but Washington reportedly turned down the invitation to the April 14 conference.

--IANS

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