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Upset at being sidelined in talks, Pakistan warns Taliban

Two senior Taliban figures said that Pakistan issued a stark warning to the militant group, apparently surprised and angered over being excluded from the insurgents’ secret talks with the Afghan government.

They said the Pakistani government warned the Taliban that unless they consult with Islamabad during the negotiations all top Taliban leaders will be forced to leave Pakistan along with their families.

The Islamabad ultimatum was given last week to a three-person Taliban delegation visiting Pakistan from Qatar, where the militant group’s political office is located, said the two Taliban figures. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.

Pakistan’s government declined to comment on Monday. It denies Afghan accusations that Islamabad is providing a safe haven to the Taliban. “We won’t communicate with the Taliban through the media. I have no comment to make,” said Sartaj Aziz, a government adviser on foreign affairs.

The three members of the Taliban delegation are 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 . They arrived from Qatar two weeks ago, apparently aiming to smooth Pakistan’s ruffled feathers after it was revealed that the Taliban held secret talks with the Afghan government in September and October.

Under pressure from both Washington and Kabul to get the Taliban to the negotiating table, Islamabad has been frustrated by the refusal of Taliban leaders living in Pakistan to participate in talks.

The three Taliban representatives are now in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwest Baluchistan province, to brief other leaders of the group about their discussions with Pakistani officials, said the two Taliban figures.

Many of the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan are accompanied by their children, who attend school in the country. Several also own property and businesses in Pakistan. Some of them trace their association with Pakistan back three decades. Although the Taliban have carved out some areas in Afghanistan where they can live in relative safety, it would be difficult for them to move there with their families, especially with children, who would have no access to school.

While Pakistan provides health care to wounded Taliban fighters and shelter to many of its leaders, the relationship between the two is often quarrelsome and tainted with mistrust on both sides.

In one of several official Taliban What’s App groups, an app that the insurgent group uses to chat, as well as for issuing claims of responsibility for attacks and sharing pictures, the militants recently accused Pakistan of helping the United States kill Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who died in May in a U.S.-drone strike in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province.

Several senior Taliban are in jail in Pakistan, either for refusing Pakistan’s demands to open peace talks or for talking to Afghan government officials without involving Pakistan. During their meetings, the Taliban delegation wanted information on group members currently in jail, the two Taliban officials told The Associated Press.

Among those in jail is Mullah Nanai, a former intelligence chief during Mansour’s rule. Nanai was arrested earlier this month after he reportedly refused to take part in the quadrilateral talks involving the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the Taliban officials.

Pakistan also tried to arrest Amir Khan Muttaqi, who was one of the most senior ministers in the Taliban’s government and opposed talks. He was not home at the time of the raid in Quetta, officials said.

Further complicating efforts to forge ahead with talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan are the divisions within the Taliban over whether to participate in negotiations. Many of the militant group’s foot soldiers have balked at talks, particularly given their recent battlefield successes. Nanai and Muttaqi are also flatly opposed to Afghanistan peace negotiations, yet the Taliban’s Doha office has held talks.

Earlier this month, the former head of the Taliban’s Doha political office, Tayyab Aga, wrote a letter addressed to the Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada in which he called for Islamabad to be excluded from talks with the Afghan government and urged all Taliban leaders to leave Pakistan. He also urged the Taliban to drop its name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a longstanding demand of the Afghan government, and instead refer to themselves as a movement.

The letter was released to Radio Free Europe’s Pashto-language Mashaal Radio. (AP)

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