By Zia Khan/Staff Reporter

A leading Pakistani cleric known for his close links with the Afghan Taliban has arrived in Qatar amid reports the group is about to open a political liaison office in Doha to begin negotiations aimed at seeking an end to the decade-long bloodshed in Afghanistan.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is accompanied by some of the parliamentarians from Pakistan’s  tribal areas where Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by Hakimullah Mehsud, has its base.

A spokesman for Maulana’s Jamiat Ulamae Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) political party confirmed to Gulf Times he had landed in Qatar yesterday but there wasn’t any official word either from Pakistan’s foreign ministry in Islamabad or the country’s embassy in Doha.

“He is in Doha and will be there for the next three days,” said Maulana Amjad Khan, the information secretary for the party, speaking by phone from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Haji Munir Khan Orakzai, a member of Pakistan National Assembly (the lower house of parliament), is  part of the delegation travelling with the Sunni cleric who runs several religious seminaries across the country.

“We are here and going to meet the Pakistani community and some Qatari officials in the next couple of days,” he said without giving any further details.  

Reports in Pakistani television channels suggested the visit was part of the government’s efforts to reach out to members of Afghan Taliban, representatives of which are already in Doha to hold preliminary talks about opening the political office.

But Maulana Amjad said the visit had nothing to do with the Doha initiative being pushed by US President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai. “It is a trip on the invitation of the Pakistani community. Nothing else,” said the spokesman.

Maulana, who heads a powerful parliamentary committee on Kashmir, sometimes visits countries outside Pakistan in his official capacity. “This, however, is a private tour,” said Amjad Khan.

Maulana Fazl is from the dominant Deobandi school of thought, the same ideology both Pakistan and Afghan Taliban believe in.

He is among three mainstream Pakistani political leaders whom the TTP has chosen to be guarantors in its latest offer for peace talks with the country’s military.

The JUI leader said he is ready to play the role of mediator between the Pakistani authorities and the Taliban dominant in parts of the tribal areas for almost a decade now.

According to earlier reports, including one in this newspaper, negotiators from the Afghan militia have already returned to Doha to open a fresh round of dialogue with the US and the Kabul administration several months after a previous initiative stalled in March last year. 

Tayeb Agha, a close aide and former secretary to Mullah Omer, and Maulvi Shahabuddin Delawar, the Taliban envoy to Riyadh during their rule, are said to be among the negotiators currently in the city.

The previous round of talks - between the Taliban and the US bypassing Karzai administration - were deadlocked after Washington refused to release the militia’s detainees at the  Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba where they face terrorism charges.


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