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Key Taliban talks representative disappears…?

April 16, 2014

Summary: An Afghan Taliban representative, known for talks with Afghan and international interlocuters, appears to have gone missing.

Mutasim Agha Jan: missing in action?

Mutasim Agha Jan: missing in action?

I have just seen this in the Wall Street Journal today.  Depending upon who you believe, Agha Jan Mutasim, is an important member of the Taliban and a genuine and useful interlocuter between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the international community.  And he now appears to have vanished.  Difficut to know what, of the range of possible options (from assassination, through arrest, or hiding in fear of his life, to some extra “deep cover” sets of negotiations), was the cause.

The Afghan Taliban apppear divided, crudely, into two factions: pro-talks and pro-fighting, so Agha Jan and his actions are unlikely to appeal to all Taliban groups.  In terms of media, they have officially been at pains to keep considerable distance from him, but not not denounce him outright.  This might in itself give a clue to his possible position as a “deniable” asset who can engage in talks with Afghan “puppets” and nternational “infidels”.

Wall Street Journal, 15 April 2014: A prominent Afghan Taliban figure who recently launched a peace overture with the government in Kabul has disappeared in the United Arab Emirates, Afghan officials and Pakistani-based militants said.

Confirming rumors that have circulated for weeks, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Shekib Mostaghni said Agha Jan Mutasim, the head of a breakaway faction of the Afghan Taliban, had gone missing. His disappearance cast new doubt over the prospects for peace amid Afghanistan’s delicate political transition.

The Afghan government was seeking information from the U.A.E. government on his whereabouts, Mr. Mostaghni said. A leader of the Afghan Taliban, who said he had spoken to Mr. Mutasim’s family, and a former Taliban official said there was concern he had been taken into custody by U.A.E. authorities.

“Mutasim is an important figure in the peace process,” Mr. Mostaghni said. “Unfortunately we don’t have any more information on how he disappeared.”

Mr. Mutasim, a finance minister in Afghanistan’s pre-2001 Taliban regime, became a senior figure in the insurgency’s leadership, known as the Quetta Shura, after the U.S.-led invasion.

He moved to Turkey in 2010 following an assassination attempt.

In February, he hosted high-profile meetings in the U.A.E. with the aim of advancing what he called a peaceful solution to the long-standing conflict in Afghanistan.

Individuals familiar with the encounters earlier this year said 16 Taliban leaders took part in a first meeting. It was followed by a second meeting between four members of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, the body charged with outreach to the Taliban, and four members of Mr. Mutasim’s group.

The Taliban’s central leadership disavowed Mr. Mutasim’s efforts in a recent statement, describing them as “detrimental to both the principles of the Islamic Emirate as well as to the goals of the sacred jihad, while being beneficial for both the invading Americans and their stooges.”

But it is worth stressing that the situation remains unclear and there are several possibilities to explain the situation.  The Afghan newsagency, Pajhwok, thinks he is under some form of house arrest:

KABUL (Pajhwok): Veteran Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has been put under house-arrest by the authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a close aide confided to Pajhwok Afghan News on Saturday.

Mutasim, who held peace talks with the High Peace Council members in Dubai last month, had been under investigation since last week by officials in the UAE, a friend of the Taliban’s former minister said.

A media report on Friday said Mutasim’s family had confirmed they had not been able to contact him since last week. Another former Taliban leader also confirmed all contacts with Agha Jan had been lost.

Although the Taliban remain as defiant as ever on their website, the large and broadly succssful Afghan elections must be giving them cause to ponder future directions for the movement – but this does not neccessarily mean growing reconciliation and dialogue initiatives any time soon.  Lets see what emerges…

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