The UN's former envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has strongly criticised Pakistan's recent arrest of high-ranking Taliban leaders. Mr Eide told the BBC the arrests had completely stopped a channel of secret communications with the UN.
Pakistani officials insist the arrests were not an attempt to spoil talks. Mr Eide confirmed publicly for the first time that his secret contacts with senior Taliban members had begun a year ago. He said they involved face-to-face talks in Dubai and elsewhere.
"The first contact was probably last spring, then of course you moved into the election process where there was a lull in activity, and then communication picked up when the election process was over, and it continued to pick up until a certain moment a few weeks ago," he said.
Mr Eide said there were now many channels of communication with the Taliban, including those involving senior representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Speaking at his home outside the Norwegian capital Oslo, Mr Eide would not comment on these other channels. Mr Eide described contacts with the Taliban as being "in the early stages... talks about talks". He cautioned that it would take weeks, months or even longer to establish confidence, on both sides, to move forward, and to establish the "red lines" in any process.
A senior Afghan adviser to President Karzai recently told me that their contacts with the Taliban had also accelerated in recent months. He also said the arrests had affected this process. There has been intense speculation about why Pakistan moved against what are believed to be about a dozen leading members of the Taliban movement in recent weeks.
"The effect of [the arrests], in total, certainly, was negative on our possibilities to continue the political process that we saw as so necessary at that particular juncture," Mr Eide said. "The Pakistanis did not play the role that they should have played.... They must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today."
In an interview this week, Pakistan's military spokesman, Gen Athar Abbas, denied Pakistan had moved against these Taliban to stop any talks. US officials have recently praised what they called a new co-operation by Pakistan. Mr Eide was giving his first interview since ending his two-year mission this month.
Asked how high up his contacts were, Mr Eide said: "We met senior figures in the Taliban leadership and we also met people who have the authority of the Quetta Shura to engage in that kind of discussion."
The Taliban leadership council, often referred to as the Quetta Shura, takes its name from the Pakistani city of Quetta where senior Taliban are widely believed to have been based. Pakistan denies its existence in Quetta and says Taliban leaders go back and forth across their porous border.
As for the involvement of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, Mr Eide said: "I find it unthinkable that such contact would take place without his knowledge and also without his acceptance." His revelations seem to confirm a growing view that at least certain members of the Taliban movement are now open to discussing a negotiated end to the war. But Mr Eide said he believed there were still disagreements.
There is also still no consensus among Afghanistan and its foreign allies about if, and how, to engage with a movement many of whose senior members are still linked to al-Qaeda. The outgoing UN envoy, whose tenure was marked by controversy over a deeply tainted presidential election, said he hoped the upcoming "peace jirga" called by President Karzai in Kabul would help build the kind of agreement necessary to reach a consensus on the way forward.
Mr Eide said he believed it was the only way to end the war, and stressed: "This has to be an Afghan process."
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