KABUL, A spokesman for the Afghan president has rejected claims that his country has agreed to issue hundreds of passports to Taliban leaders to help facilitate travel for peace negotiations with Kabul.
Ajmal Obaid Abidy told Radio Free Afghanistan on May 18 that such reports being debated in the Afghan media are mere rumors.
"The way that this issue is being discussed in the media -- it doesn't exist and it is just a rumor," he said.
Former Afghan top spy Amrullah Saleh, however, told Radio Free Afghanistan last week that the head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, made this demand in his talks with Afghan officials on May 6.
"He asked the Afghan government to provide 170 passports to Taliban leaders," Saleh said. "This means not only that they [the Pakistanis] are supporting the Taliban but that they also know who's who in the organization."
He added the demand was ostensibly aimed at enabling the Taliban to travel abroad to meet Afghan officials. "But it is evidence that Pakistan still supports the Taliban and their war," Saleh said.
Reports in the Afghan media said that Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to issue Afghan Taliban leaders with passports from their country during Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Kabul on May 12.
During the past 13 years, Afghan and Western officials have accused Islamabad of being complicit in hiding senior Afghan Taliban leaders on its soil.
Officials at Afghanistan's High Peace Council appear to back providing the Taliban with Afghan passports. Shahzada Shahid, a spokesman for the organization, said such a step will help build confidence between the government and insurgents.
"Anything that can help in getting us close to peace and can show our sincerity toward that end can and should be seen as a good step," he said. "We need to take some practical steps to reach peace in Afghanistan."
The Taliban have not commented on these reports, but their representatives met Afghan government figures and peace council officials in an informal gathering called a "nonofficial meeting" in Qatar earlier this month.
At the end of the two-day meeting on May 4, both sides agreed that the insurgents will open their political office in Qatar and pleaded to hold a similar dialogue in the near future.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Ajmal Torman and Malali Bashir's reporting from Kabul and Prague.