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Afghan Taliban delegation in Pakistan after 'secret talks'

AFP , Saturday 22 Oct 2016
Taliban militants (Photo: Reuters)
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An Afghan Taliban delegation has arrived in Pakistan, militant sources said Saturday, raising speculation over efforts to revive peace negotiations days after reports of secret talks with Afghan officials in Qatar.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the delegation from the militants' political office in Qatar had arrived in Pakistan, but ruled out any chance of peace talks.

"Our delegation has travelled from Qatar to Pakistan to discuss the problem of Afghan refugees and some schools recently closed there," he told AFP.

"The reports that they are in Pakistan for peace talks is completely untrue."

Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan's ambassador to Islamabad, told AFP he was aware of the Taliban delegation's visit but gave no further details.

The visit follows reports that the militants have held two secret meetings with Afghan officials since September in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

A senior American diplomat was also present in the Qatar meetings, but no representatives from Pakistan -- the historical backers of the Taliban -- were present.

The talks in Qatar were attended by Mullah Abdull Manan Akhund, brother of Taliban founder and long-time leader Mullah Omar who died in 2013, according to Britain's The Guardian newspaper.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, and National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar had also attended one of the Qatar meetings, according to local media.

Afghanistan's foreign ministry said it was unaware that a Taliban delegation is in Pakistan.

"The Taliban should be banned from travelling to regional countries. But if they have done so to pursue peace, this should be explained," ministry spokesman Shekib Mustakhni said.

The Taliban have long insisted on the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan as a precondition for peace talks with the government.

Pakistan has hosted several rounds of international talks over the last year to jumpstart peace negotiations, which yielded little progress.

The dialogue process ground to a complete halt when the US killed former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike in May.

The insurgency has shown stubborn resilience under new Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, attacking northern Kunduz city for a second time and threatening the capital of the southern opium-rich province of Helmand.

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