Second round of Taliban peace talks to be held in the Maldives

The Maldives is hosting a second round of talks between Afghan lawmakers and “groups opposed to the Afghan government.”

Press Secretary at the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed the talks were taking place and said the Maldives government had “no involvement”.

“We cannot disclose the location of the talks, although we can confirm that they are not being held in Male’ or other population centres,” he said.

In late January Al Jazeera reported that a group of seven men allied with the Taliban had met in the Maldives on January 22 to discuss an ambitious plan to bring peace to the war-torn country by offering cash, jobs and incentives to Taliban fighters in exchange for laying down their arms. Taliban fighters are reportedly paid US$10 a day, a considerable sum in an embattled country with 40 percent unemployment.

One of the Taliban’s representatives told Al Jazeera the Maldives was chosen as a venue for the talks because “we feel safe.”

Photos of the meeting at Bandos Island Resort and Spa were later leaked to the press.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, Siyamak Herawi, later told news agency Reuters the visiting group included “Hekmatyar loyalists along with some former Taliban members who are now sitting in the parliament. It happened in January in the Maldives and they decided to hold more talks,” he said.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is an Afghan Mujahideen leader who was the country’s prime minister from 1993-1994, and is considered by the US to be one of the three main leaders of the Afghan insurgency. He was a key figure in the insurgency against Soviet occupation, reportedly receiving millions in CIA funding, but is now labelled as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the US.

The last secret meeting in the Maldives coincided with the International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Lancaster House in London on January 28, where discussions revolved around a national council for peace, reconciliation and reintegration to be set up by the Afghan government.

The programme was to channel development funds towards luring fighters away from the insurgency into alternative livelihoods, with US$140 million in international funding earmarked for the first year.

While many elements of the Maldivian government were oblivious to the first meeting, Zuhair said this time “Maldivian security and intelligence agencies have been fully informed of the talks.”

“All the representatives involved in the talks are holding valid passports and visas. None of the representatives involved are listed in UN or other international travel blacklists,” he said.

“Afghanistan’s stability affects the peace and security of our region. The Government of the Maldives supports efforts to bring a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” Zuhair said.