Written by Mujib Mashal
The Taliban have called off meetings in Pakistan, including a first audience with a national leader since their regime was ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001, after the Afghan government protested to the United Nations Security Council that leaders of the insurgent group were violating travel restrictions under international sanctions.
A spokesman for the Taliban said on Sunday that representatives of the group had been forced to postpone a trip to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, to meet with Prime Minister Imran Khan and to continue peace talks with U.S. diplomats because of the travel restrictions.
A letter submitted to the U.N. on Friday by Nazifullah Salarzai, Afghanistan’s deputy representative to the body, said the Taliban’s trip to Pakistan — and particularly the meeting with Khan — would amount to “the official recognition and legitimization of an armed group that poses a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan and whose members are sanctioned by provisions of the U.N. Security Council.”
Afghan and Taliban officials said the Afghan government complaint was most likely only part of the reason for cancellation, particularly since some of the Taliban delegation members have long been living in Pakistan anyway, but it has renewed a debate around the ability of insurgent leaders to travel freely in recent years.
Taliban representatives have popped up everywhere from luxury hotels in the United Arab Emirates to bullet trains in China to conference halls in Moscow, even as violence linked to the group has intensified in Afghanistan. Afghan officials have expressed fear that in a rush to facilitate a peace deal, its international partners are emboldening the Taliban by giving the group more freedom of movement without receiving concessions in return.
Other reasons for the cancellation include internal disagreements over the issue among the Taliban, who were divided over how close they wanted to be seen to Pakistan during peace negotiations, according to insurgent leaders who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations. The Pakistani military has long supported the Taliban and provided Taliban leaders with sanctuary from U.S. airstrikes.