Afghan Taliban to Attend Crisis Talks

Afghan Taliban to Attend Crisis Talks

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Afghan Taliban will send representatives to a conference organized by an international crisis group that will discuss resolving the war in Afghanistan, the group said in a statement on Friday.

Representatives of the Taliban's "political office" will attend the conference in Qatar's capital, Doha, organized by Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a Nobel peace prize-winning group focused on resolving conflict. The conference is "aimed at finding a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan," now in its 15th year.

It is not part of the official peace process, which recently restarted after being derailed in July when the Afghan government announced that the Taliban's founder and leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead since early 2013.

The official, four-country initiative, involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, is due to hold its third meeting in Islamabad on February 6. The meetings do not include Taliban representatives, but aim to lay the groundwork for an eventual dialogue between militants and the Kabul government.

Referring to itself as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," the Taliban said the group sought to take "healthy advantage" of the Pugwash initiative to "relay the legal demands of our nation and our just policy to the world directly."

The conference was "purely for research purposes with academic debates," it said.

Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told The Associated Press that no government representatives would attend the Pugwash gathering.

Last year, a similar event organized by Pugwash was attended by Afghan officials, though they came in a personal capacity and didn't represent the government.

Political analyst Waheed Muzhda, who was an official in the Taliban's 1996-2001 administration, said the conference would not discuss the peace process but would instead focus on "current circumstances in Afghanistan."

(KA)