In what appears to be yet another false start for peace talks, the Afghan government and the Taliban have denied they are engaged in peace negotiations in Turkey.
In an apparent attempt to quash the hopes raised by a widely reported meeting participated by members of the Afghan Taliban and government advisers, Kabul downplayed the participation of officials.
Shah Hussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said presidential advisers Homayoun Jarir and Abass Basir were acting in a personal capacity in Istanbul.
“Individuals talking to a number of Taliban members in Turkey do not represent the Afghan government,” he wrote on Facebook on January 15.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported spokesman for the Taliban, also denied Taliban representatives were involved in any peace talks.
“Reports about delegation of IEA (eds: Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- formal name of the Taliban) participating at talks in Turkey are baseless,” Mujahid wrote on Twitter. “We have neither sent any delegation nor can any participant represent the Islamic Emirate.”
Afghan and international media reports said Mullah Abdul Rauf Akhund, Rahmatullah Wardak, and Mullah Abdul Haleem Akhund participated in three-day discussions that ended January 15.
Aminullah Muzzaffari, a spokesman for the Afghan High Peace Council, however, said the meeting might prompt the insurgents to join formal peace talks.
“It is important to note that this was an unofficial meeting, but it was participated by members of all sides,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan on January 15. “We hope this meeting will open the door to future talks.”
Kabul has been trying to talk to the Taliban since 2008, but formal peace talks still appear elusive after numerous false starts and major setbacks.
In July 2015, some senior members of the Taliban met with senior Afghan officials in the first meeting of its kind brokered by Pakistan. While the meeting in Murree, a resort town near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, was observed by diplomats from China and the United States, the Taliban were swift in expressing their disapproval.
"When the dust settles, the much-hailed talks between Taliban officials and [Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani-administration officials in Islamabad will be revealed as nothing more than Pakistan delivering a few individuals from the Islamic Emirate to speak in their personal capacity," read a hard-hitting English-language commentary published on the Taliban's website.
The piece, titled A Pakistani Roulette: Pakistani-Brokered Peace Talks, was quickly removed from the insurgents’ website.
A Taliban contact office was opened in Qatar in 2013. But it only achieved the release of five insurgent prisoners from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for securing the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity in 2014.
In 2011, the Taliban assassinated Burhannuddin Rabbani. The former Afghan president was heading the peace council formed by President Hamid Karzai in 2010 to negotiate with the insurgents. He was assassinated by a suicide bomber who posed as a peace emissary.
A year earlier, it emerged that an imposter pocketed substantial sums of money after posing as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur for months and meeting with senior Afghan and NATO officials.