The leader of the Taliban has reshuffled his team of negotiators ahead of peace talks with the Afghan government, adding four close aides to the group, sources in the movement said Saturday.
Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada made the appointments to strengthen his control over the team, a Taliban commander, based at an unknown location in Pakistan, told.
Taliban alters its ranks in negotiators
The aides are all members of the militant group’s leadership council, which should help the team to make quicker decisions, two other sources in the Taliban movement who confirmed the move told.
The talks with Kabul were originally supposed to have started in March, but there have been repeated delays, with the Taliban accused of increasing violence.
The four new negotiators, who were appointed last month, are Taliban chief justice Sheikh Abdul Hakeem, Maulvi Saqib, former chief justice during the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s, Mullah Shireen, a close aide and bodyguard of the late Taliban founder Mullah Omar, and Maulvi Abdul Kabir, former governor of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.
The reshuffle also saw three to four earlier members of the team removed, including Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, a senior militant leader, the sources said.
It comes after Akhundzada appointed Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar, as head of the group’s military wing.
“Yaqoob is young, energetic and experienced,” the military commander said and added that Yaqoob was respected in the Taliban because of his family background and experience.
Yakoob is already a member of the Taliban’s central Shura council and a deputy to Akhundzada.
The Taliban have a political office in the Qatari capital Doha, which has emerged as a likely venue to host the initial round of peace talks after the militants and Kabul complete an ongoing prisoner exchange.
The peace negotiations hinge on a prisoner swap, in which Kabul pledged to free about 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for around 1,000 Afghan security force captives held by the insurgents.
So far, Afghan authorities have released about 4,400 Taliban inmates, Afghan officials said. Afghan officials, meanwhile, accused the Taliban of continuing to carry out deadly attacks across the country.
“Taliban had a choice to cease the fire and halt taking innocent lives, instead, they chose to kill more and showed no will for peace,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said on Twitter on Saturday.
Taliban-Afghan government talks
Qatar is likely to host the initial round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government after the two foes complete an ongoing prisoner swap, a minister said Thursday.
The talks were originally supposed to have started March 10, but there have been repeated delays amid continued fighting and as the prisoner exchange drags on.
“There is a consensus that the beginning of the talks be held in Qatar,” acting Afghan foreign minister Mohamad Haneef Atmar told reporters.
The Taliban have a political office in Qatar’s capital Doha.
Atmar said 12 countries have offered to host peace talks, including Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Indonesia, Japan, Norway and Turkey.
So far, Afghan authorities have released 4,400 Taliban inmates, Atmar said, calling it “significant progress”.
“The Taliban must now show goodwill for the start of intra-Afghan talks,” Atmar added.
“Otherwise, they will be held responsible for the killing of hundreds more Afghans due to violence or corona (virus) before a date is fixed for the talks.”
Video of a Taliban tunnel bomb detonated two days ago near an Afghan army position in Sangin, Helmand. This age-old tactic was popularised in contemporary times by Syrian rebels, but has seen less action in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/8triFTtK0F
— Hugo Kaaman (@HKaaman) July 16, 2020
Afghanistan is currently struggling to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections, with more than 35,000 confirmed cases and some 1,000 deaths.
The prisoner exchange was agreed in a landmark deal between the Taliban and Washington signed in February, which primarily stipulated that all US and foreign forces would quit Afghanistan by May 2021.
In return, the Taliban made several security promises and pledged to hold peace talks once the prisoner release was complete.
Experts expect the talks to be a lengthy and complicated process with several rounds of negotiations held in different countries.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk