By Salman Siddiqui/Staff Reporter
The Afghan Taliban would rather see their recently released senior leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar head towards Doha to reopen their ‘temporarily shut’ political office than have him go to Saudi Arabia or Turkey where Pakistan and Afghanistan both would like to start a new ‘parallel’ peace process, a senior Taliban source told Gulf Times.
Mullah Baradar is considered one of the four men who founded the Taliban movement in Afghanistan in 1994. At the time of his capture in 2010 near Karachi, he was thought to be second-in-command only to the Taliban chief Mullah Omar.
Pakistan released him last Saturday after repeated calls by the Afghan government which believes that the senior Taliban figure would favour direct talks with them. Mullah Baradar’s release was timed with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to New York this week where he is expected to meet US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“Both Afghanistan and Pakistan want the peace talks venue to be shifted from Qatar to somewhere else like Saudi Arabia where they believe they will have more sway over the outcome of the peace process,” the Taliban leader said.
However, one of the main reasons why the Afghan Taliban had chosen Qatar was that they desired to formulate an independent policy without any influence from other countries. “Especially, independent of influence from Pakistan,” he stressed.
At the moment, though it was not yet clear where Mullah Baradar was headed.
According to the Afghan foreign ministry yesterday, the Taliban leader was still spending some family time in Pakistan for the time being. “At this stage, we can confirm that Mullah Baradar has been released on the request of the Afghan government. Now, he should spend some time with his family, and in the coming weeks the effect of Mullah Baradar’s release on the peace process will become visible,” Janan Mosazai, the spokesman was quoted as saying.
However, Taliban sources say that Mullah Baradar actually also needed some time to recover his health, which has not been in top shape in recent years. “Our brother has been suffering from diabetes and blood pressure. Also, he has seen some torture,” the Taliban source said without elaborating what kind and who inflicted the torture on their colleague.
Interestingly, Mullah Baradar was not handed over to the Afghan government like they had wished for. Pakistan’s adviser on foreign affair Sartaj Aziz had said that Afghan President Karzai during his recent visit to Pakistan had wanted Mullah Baradar to go to Afghanistan, but Pakistan felt that if the Taliban were to play a positive role in the reconciliation process then they must do it according to their own Taliban Shura (Council).
When asked what he made of these statements coming out from Pakistan, the Taliban source said that “it means that they (the Pakistan and Afghan officials) have put pressure on him (Mullah Baradar) to go to Turkey or Saudi Arabia to start a parallel peace process but he has refused to do so. On the other side, there was pressure (by the US and Afghans) for his release. So they (Pakistan) say now, we released him, to decide matters according to Taliban Shura. It shows a failure on their side.”
At the moment, the Taliban say that a ‘wait and see game’ has begun. The movement will assess their contacts with Mullah Baradar and see what role he was fit to play.
In any case, the Afghan Taliban are opposed to shifting their peace process talks from Qatar to Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Apart from the alleged lack of independence the militant group feels it will face in those two countries, there are other major problems.
“Turkey is out of the question for the Taliban because despite being a Muslim country, it contributed troops to the invading forces in Afghanistan,” the
Taliban official said.
After the 2003 Istanbul bombings were linked to Al Qaeda, Turkey had deployed troops to Afghanistan and was once the third largest contingent within the International Security
“In Saudi Arabia, we have another major issue apart from the fact that Pakistan and even Karzai government have a special bond with the leaders there. Some of our prisoners, whom I can tell you are important for our movement and were once governors in Afghanistan, are continued to be held in Saudi prisons,” he said.
The Taliban prisoner issue with Saudi Arabia remains
There is a third option, however, where consensus might reach to send Baradar to start a parallel process. “Most likely, the United Arab Emirates may be the option though we will insist on Doha for all peace talks, especially with the US,” the Taliban source said.
But hypothetically, if indeed, UAE became the new venue for the ‘parallel’ peace talks, what will happen to the reportedly more than two dozen strong Afghan Taliban delegation and their families living in Qatar, and the almost never used grand office building in West Bay? “Like I said, if there is a new venue, it will be a parallel process. All of us will continue to stay here in Qatar, unless of course our top leader decides otherwise,” he said.