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Afghan Taliban may meet Saudi crown prince in Islamabad

PESHAWAR: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is likely to meet Afghan Taliban representatives during his visit to Pakistan starting on Sunday, government sources said, part of efforts to broker an end to Afghanistan’s 17-year-old war.

Pakistan has been playing an increasingly vital role in Afghan 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 due to Riyadh’s historical ties with the 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 group says it’s to meet US representatives and 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 February 18,” one of the Pakistani officials said.

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

“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 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 $10 billion.

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Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2019

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