The Turkish government has denied a report in Pakistani media that claimed that the Afghan Taliban militant group had opened a political office in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, in order to revive peace talks, which have stalled. Pakistan’s Frontier Post newspaper reported that the decision to open the Ankara office followed a trilateral summit held in the city earlier this month involving officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey. (On Feb. 13, Ankara hosted the eighth Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Summit, a forum on developing closer cooperation on security and economic development. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Turkish President Abdullah Gul at the meeting.)
In response to the Post report, a spokesperson for Turkey’s foreign ministry, Tanju Bilgiç, said it “does not reflect the truth,” Agence France Presse reported. “No such office has been opened in Turkey.”
In the past, Turkey has said it might be willing to establish an office on its soil for the Taliban if it helped the peace negotiations in Afghanistan. (Pakistan is also interested in peace talks with the Taliban.) The Western-supported government in Kabul is seeking to foster peace with Taliban militants ahead of the planned departure of NATO troops from Afghanistan before the end of the year. However, Ankara was quick to deny the latest report.
The Post also claimed that Pakistan’s senior intelligence figures met with none other than Aga Mutasimullah Can, a deputy of Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, in Ankara, to discuss a new structure for reconciliation following the exit of NATO soldiers, citing “credible intelligence sources.” (Mullah Omar has been a fugitive since the U.S. and its allies entered Afghanistan in October 2001.) The Post report also stated that Taliban members might even meet with US officials at the Ankara bureau in the coming days.
Moreover, the Post alleged, that a “top CIA official” attended the meeting in Ankara and offered a “cash reward” to the Taliban in exchange for the release of soldier Bowe Robert Bergdahl, who is reportedly being held by the Haqqani, another militant group, along with Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Post also reported that the Taliban had previously rejected an offer from the Saudi Arabian government to open a representative office in Riyadh, although they have opened a branch in Abu Dhabi.
Dr. Michael Kugelman, senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, regarded the Post report as “speculation and rumor --though certainly credible, given that Pakistan and Afghanistan have talked about the possibility.”