ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has told the Afghan Taliban leadership to prepare a team for peace negotiations, a Taliban leader familiar with the development confirmed to Daily Times on Sunday. Pakistani officials conveyed the message to the Taliban leaders in a recent interaction. However, the Taliban leaders have not yet responded to the call. Taliban had earlier refused to accept Pakistan’s call to join the political dialogue when a similar message was conveyed to them in a face-to-face meeting between several senior Taliban leaders and Pakistani officials in March. Weeks later, Taliban launched their annual Spring Offensive codenamed ‘Omari Operations’ named after Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed by a US spy aircraft in May last year. “Although Taliban have yet not responded to Pakistan’s appeal, this time Pakistan could go tough on the Taliban if they refuse to come to the negotiation table,” a former Taliban minister told Daily Times, requesting anonymity. “There is a possibility that some Taliban members are arrested, expelled or even handed over to Afghanistan if Taliban leadership declines to join the peace process,” he further said. Daily Times has learnt most of the Taliban military commanders, including military chief Ibrahim Sadr, are in southern Afghanistan to lead the war from there. All Taliban leaders, who are considered in Akhtar Mansour’s camp, have already left Pakistan and now are in Helmand, Kandahar and Urozgan. A Taliban official, who had joined fighting in eastern part during Spring Offensive, told Daily Times that Taliban now freely move from one of their stronghold to other and even from the south to the relatively peaceful north where the Taliban have many areas under their control. Pakistan has pressed the Taliban to join the peace talks amid diplomatic efforts to find out a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem. Senior Afghan, Chinese, Pakistani and US officials are scheduled to meet in Muscat, Oman, on Monday at the Quadrilateral Coordination Group’s meeting, which will be their first sitting after they met in Islamabad in May last year. The QCG process had been dysfunctional after an American drone killed Taliban chief Akhtar Mansour on May 21 last year, in an attack Pakistan had described as a serious setback to the peace process. However, now the Americans are believed to have taken the lead to revive the grouping, which is one of the best options available to push for the political negotiations. Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua will be leading Pakistan’s delegation in the QCG’s consultations. Pakistani and Afghan officials have joined officials from other countries in Muscat at a discussion organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Near East & South Asia Centre. Pakistan had earlier insisted that it is not its responsibility to bring the Taliban to the negotiations table and all QCG members should use their influence in this regard. Pakistani officials now insist that the reconciliation with the Taliban has got further complicated as Russia and Iran are now completely involved in the game and they have strong contacts with both countries. Taliban sources admit Iran has given houses to some Taliban leaders in their Sunni-majority areas. Russian officials involved in Afghan affairs publicly defend contacts with their former foes to protect their diplomatic missions and nationals in Afghanistan and also to work for peace in the war-ravaged country. The Daesh Khorasan phenomenon is also one of other key factors to bring the Taliban closer to Russia and Iran as both consider the group as a serious threat to them as well as the regional countries. China, which adopted a low profile in Afghanistan until 2014, has also emerged as an active player in all initiatives including the Russia-led regional peace initiative that focuses on ways to find out peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict. Turkey, which is part of the US-led invasion forces in Afghanistan, is eyeing a bigger role now and is opening its doors even for the Taliban leaders who intend to seek asylum there. A senior Taliban leader has applied for asylum in Turkey, which recently hosted representatives of a splinter Taliban group for talks with the Afghan govt. Former Taliban minister Agha Jan Mutasim has been living in Turkey since after being shot at and critically injured in Karachi in 2010. Turkey also hosts Abdul Rashid Dostam, the first Afghan vice-president, who moved to Turkey after serious differences with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani. Published in Daily Times, October 16th 2017.