Afghan Taliban names new political head in peace talks boost
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a former anti-Soviet fighter, and his deputy Abdul Salam Hanafi were appointed by the insurgents’ leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, a member of the Quetta Shura ruling council told AFP Monday.
Stanekzai is a senior Taliban leader who served as Afghanistan’s deputy health minister during the militants’ 1996-2001 time in power.
“They are in favour of peace talks, and were selected to reach to an understanding with the Afghan government and the international community,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Qatar office was established in 2013 to facilitate such talks.
An historic first round of talks between Taliban leaders and the Afghan government was held in July, but a second round was derailed after the announcement of long-time Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death.
Many in the movement were unhappy the death had been kept secret for two years — during which time annual Eid statements were issued in Omar’s name.
The Qatar office’s former leader, Sayed Tayyab Agha, stepped down in August amid deep divisions following the appointment of Mansour as replacement for Omar, and Stanekzai has been caretaker ever since.
His appointment was confirmed on Saturday in a statement on the militants’ website.
Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani has made negotiations a priority since taking office last year.
The US, which recently announced it would delay withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban, is among the countries calling for a return to the negotiating table.