x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Saudi says Afghan mediation depends on peace desire

Saudi Arabia confirms that it acted as a mediator between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia confirmed today it had hosted a meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents but said any future mediation would depend on the Afghans showing a desire for peace. Taliban and Afghan officials attended an iftar during Ramadan in Mecca last month in the presence of King Abdullah. Both Afghan parties have denied the meeting amounted to reconciliation talks, but the Riyadh-based diplomats and Saudi analysts say Riyadh is hoping to break the Taliban's link to al Qa'eda for fear of Pakistan's future.

"The kingdom's effort was the result of an official request by President Hamid Karzai," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference. "We can only try because we are concerned about security and peace in that country ... but it's up to the Afghans themselves," he said. "If we feel there is a desire on their part to solve the problems politically and end violence ... then that's what we hope for and there will be an attempt (at mediation) in that framework. But if we don't feel there is a response then it would be difficult to find a way to intervene."

Analysts say Saudi Arabia is worried that forces including the Taliban and their al Qa'eda allies are succeeding in destabilising neighbouring Pakistan, a crucial US and Saudi ally where the Islamist militant groups are also present. Prince Saud was speaking after talks with the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, which he said covered deteriorating security in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries to recognise Afghanistan's Taliban government before it was toppled by a US-led invasion in 2001 following the Sept 11 attacks which were carried out by the Taliban's al Qa'eda allies. It is also a traditional ally of Pakistan but has seen its preferred political leaders sidelined, while militants allied to the Taliban and al Qa'eda have gained strength in the unruly border region with Afghanistan.