PESHAWAR, KABUL: The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday issued a list with the names of representatives who will participate in the next round of peace talks with US diplomats on February 25 in Doha, Qatar.
The group comprises 14 people led by Abbas Stanikzai. However, the son of a prominent Taliban leader -- who is currently lodged in jail in Afghanistan -- is named in the list, with the group demanding his immediate release prior to the talks.
Anas Haqqani is the son of a prominent and former Taliban leader, late Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was the chief of the Haqqani network which is known to be behind several major attacks on the US and Afghan forces. However, Anas’s role in the network is not clear. He was arrested during an overseas trip and has been languishing in an Afghan jail since 2014.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that “Anas should be freed because he was a student and was arrested during a trip in Jordan by Americans. He has not committed any crime."
"He is a member of the negotiators' team and the Americans should free him,” Mujahid told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, confirmed that Anas had been detained by Kabul, adding that the government had no immediate plans to release him. “Anas Haqqani is in prison and no decision has been taken about his freedom.”
The Taliban spokesperson said that the US had yet to announce the names of its team. However, the two sides were in contact with each other.
He said that “following the directions by Amir-ul-Momineen Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, Mullah Biradar Akhund, leader of political negotiation team Qatar, has announced the fresh Taliban team for talks with the US".
The Taliban team includes Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the team while Maulvi Zia-ur-Rehman Madni, Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanfi, Sheikh Shahabuddin Dilawar, Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor, Mullah Abdul Manan Umari, Maulvi Amir Khan Mutaqi, Mullah Muhammad Fazil Mazloom, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Maulvi Mati-ul-Haq, Mullah Muhammad Anas Haqqani, Mullah Noorullah Noori, Maulvi Muhammad Nabi Umari and Maulvi Abdul Haq Wasiq are the other representatives on board.
President Ghani, whose government has until now been excluded from the peace talks based on the Taliban's insistence, is running for a second term by contesting the presidential polls in July while Washington wants to allow the peace talks with Taliban to succeed so the group can also participate in the election process at a later stage, US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad hinted in his previous trip to the region.
Mujahid said that it was premature for the Taliban to say if the group would be participating in the presidential ballot unless a peace deal is struck.
“I can’t say anything at this point (whether to take part in Afghan presidential election). We will take a decision once the talks yield results,” he told Arab News, adding that any polls held under "occupation" will be "bogus" and "have no result".
The focus of the past rounds of the U.S.-Taliban talks has been on a complete withdrawal of troops with the Taliban pledging not to allow the Afghan soil to be used against U.S. interests.
The next round of talks are crucial as they will be followed by another meeting involving Taliban emissaries and influential Afghan politicians, including two presidential nominees in March.
The first major meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians was held in Moscow last week where they agreed on a complete pullout of foreign troops.
According to media reports, Khalilzad on Sunday embarked on a fresh round of trips to several countries --- including Pakistan, Germany, Qatar, Turkey, and Afghanistan --- to discuss the U.S.'s strategy for the peace process.
The US State Department has stated that the trip is part of latest peace overtures by President Donald Trump's administration to seek a negotiated settlement to the long-running Afghan war.
Khalilzad had hoped that a peace agreement could be reached before Afghanistan’s presidential ballot. However, he had said that there is still a long way to go before inking a final deal.