Saudi crown prince to meet members of Taliban on trip to Pakistan

Saudi Arabia thought to have sway over Afghan militants

Jibran Ahmad
Saturday 16 February 2019 12:02
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Pakistani motorcyclists pass by a banner welcoming Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, displayed on the occasion of his visit in Lahore, Pakistan, on Saturday 16 February 2019.
Pakistani motorcyclists pass by a banner welcoming Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, displayed on the occasion of his visit in Lahore, Pakistan, on Saturday 16 February 2019.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is likely to meet Afghan Taliban representatives during his visit to Pakistan on Sunday, in an effort to broker an end to Afghanistan’s 17-year-old civil war, Pakistani government sources have said.

Pakistan has been playing an increasingly vital role in the Afghanistan peace talks, which have been gathering momentum in recent months amid a growing US desire to pull out its troops.

Along with other Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia has been part of the peace negotiations and is seen to have some sway over the Afghan Taliban militants due to Riyadh’s historical ties with the hardline Islamist group and the kingdom’s religious clout as the birthplace of Islam.

Two senior Pakistani officials said the crown prince was likely to meet Afghan Taliban representatives in Islamabad, where the militants, fighting to restore strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan after their 2001 ouster, say they are due to meet US representatives and Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan.

“Though it is top secret so far, there are strong indications representatives of the Afghan Taliban will meet Prince Salman during their visit of Pakistan on 18 February,” one Pakistani official in Islamabad said.

A senior Taliban leader in Qatar said no decision had been made on whether they would meet the crown prince.

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“Actually meeting Prince Salman is not in the plan so far but we can discuss it when we are in Islamabad,” said the Taliban representative.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office and Saudi Arabia’s government did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The crown prince is expected to leave Pakistan on Monday after signing a raft of investment agreements in the energy sector for more than $10bn.

But his trip, which Islamabad is treating as the biggest state visit in years, risks being overshadowed by escalating tensions between India and Pakistan following a militant attack on Indian security forces in the disputed Kashmir region.

New Delhi says Pakistan had a hand in the attack by a militant group which is based on Pakistani soil, something Islamabad denies.

Reuters

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