Pakistan has arrested a senior member of the Afghan Taliban here in a bid to put pressure on the militant group to come to the negotiating table to hold talks with the US, a media report said Tuesday. Hafez Mohibullah, who served as Religious Affairs Minister when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan until 2001, was held in Peshawar, the BBC reported quoting sources in the group.
The US has repeatedly called on Pakistan to end “safe havens” for the Taliban on its soil. Pakistan denies backing the group to retain influence in Afghanistan. The reported detention of Mohibullah came ahead of US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad’s visit to Pakistan for a fresh round of talks with top officials to push forward a US-backed ongoing peace process in the war-torn country.
Two high-ranking Taliban figures, talking on condition of anonymity, suggested the former minister had been detained to put pressure on the group into meeting Khalilzad in Pakistan this week, and crucially to agree to meet representatives of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the report said. “They arrested him [Mohibullah] to send a message,” the report said, quoting one senior Taliban figure as saying. “There was a meeting with Pakistani officials on the upcoming peace talks which ended in arguments. Right afterwards, the authorities raided a number of houses and arrested Mohibullah. After that (Taliban leader) Sheikh Hibatullah sent a message warning everyone to be alert,” said another source from the militant group’s Quetta Shura or leadership council.
The US wants Pakistan to encourage the militants to reach a settlement in Afghanistan and bring the 17-year war to a close. The Taliban officials have said they will only begin talks with the Afghan government once a firm date for the withdrawal of American troops from the country has been agreed.
India has been a key stakeholder in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. India has been maintaining a policy of not engaging with the Taliban and pressing for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace initiative to bring peace and stability in the war-ravaged country.