Islamabad: Saudi Arabia's possible role in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan will be the focus of an upcoming meeting between Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rasoul in Riyadh.

The meeting will be held in the wake of interactions between Saudi officials and representatives of the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami party led by former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

"Together the Pakistani and Afghan Foreign Ministers will travel to Saudi Arabia, possibly this year, for trilateral talks," an Afghan diplomat told in Islamabad.

Rasoul will soon visit Islamabad for talks with Khar and the plan to visit Riyadh will top their agenda, the diplomat said.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia was unwilling to get involved in the Afghan peace process unless the Taliban shunned al-Qaeda. Now the kingdom has agreed in principle to act on a joint request from the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan to back the troubled peace process.

"Saudi officials will brief the Pakistani and Afghan Foreign Ministers about their talks with the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami representatives," said the diplomat, who did not want to be named.

President Hamid Karzai reached an understanding to formally seek Saudi help for the Afghan peace process during his talks with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad in February, said another official, who was part of the Afghan delegation that visited Pakistan.

Diplomatic sources said the US had sought Saudi help after the Taliban pulled out of talks with American interlocutors in Qatar in March.

Some Afghan analysts are sceptical about the success of the Saudi initiative and said the Taliban are unlikely to opt for another venue for talks as it will weaken the Qatar-centric dialogue.

Waheed Mujda, an Afghan analyst, said from Kabul that the Taliban were interested in opening an office in Qatar to gain official and global recognition.

"(So) they will not be interested in the Saudi initiative and will never weaken the Qatar process," Mujda said. On the other hand, former senior Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim said he was confident that Saudi Arabia could play an important role in view of the "kingdom's spiritual recognition."

Mutasim, who once headed the Taliban's powerful political commission, said the intervention of the Saudis could yield positive results.



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