Taliban faction expresses support for peace talks

29 May, 2016 4:59 pm

KABUL (92 News) — A breakaway Taliban faction is willing to hold peace talks with the Afghan government but will demand the imposition of Islamic law and the departure of all foreign forces, a senior leader of the group said Sunday.

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi told a group of around 200 followers in eastern Afghanistan that his faction had no faith in the government but was willing to negotiate without preconditions. Niazi is deputy to Mullah Mohammad Rasool, who split from the Taliban last summer after Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was chosen to succeed the group’s late founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Mansoor was killed earlier this month in a US drone strike in Pakistan and was replaced days later by a little known conservative cleric, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The main Taliban faction has expressed similar demands, but says it will only enter peace talks after they have been met. The US and NATO officially ended their combat mission more than a year ago, but thousands of foreign soldiers remain in the country, mainly carrying out training, support and counterterrorism operations.

Mansoor had refused to participate in a peace process initiated by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that included Pakistan, the United States and China. Representatives of the four countries have held five meetings, without inviting the Taliban. Their aim is to chart a roadmap toward talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents to end the 15-year war, but the disarray within the Taliban has complicated those efforts.

The Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has branded Rasool’s faction “a government army in the shape of the Taliban.” He claimed that Rasool was supported by Kabul and Washington. “For us he is nothing more than a local policeman or a puppet of Afghan intelligence,” he said.

Rasool’s followers met in the mountainous Shindand district, near the border with Iran. Snipers on hilltops surveyed dirt roads leading to the area, which serves as the main base for the mobile fighters. The encampment where the meeting was held is only accessible by motorbike or horse.

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