Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has offered to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate actor in the country’s politics, in a major shift aimed at bringing peace talks to end the 17-year war.
“We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement,” Ghani said in his remarks in the first day of an international conference in Kabul, held with the goal of fostering peace talks.
Ghani called for the affected parties to create a framework for peace talks, and for the Taliban to establish a formal office to engage in negotiations with the Western-backed government. He proposed a pact with the militants that could involve a potential release of Taliban prisoners, whose names would be scrubbed from international blacklists; a constitutional review; and fresh elections.
The remarks were a major shift in Ghani’s stance toward the Islamist militants, who have been waging a brutal insurgency for 17 years in their bid to restore Islamic rule. Ghani routinely calls the Taliban terrorists but has expressed a readiness in the past to speak with factions of the group who were interested in peace.
“The Taliban are expected to give input to the peacemaking process, the goal of which is to draw the Taliban, as an organization, to peace talks,” Ghani said, offering the prospect that former Taliban fighters could be provided with jobs and rehabilitated into society.
Ghani said the talks would need to be supported with international diplomacy, including pressure on neighboring Pakistan, which Kabul accuses of aiding the Taliban. Pakistan denies the allegations.
While the United States has pursued a more aggressive military strategy in Afghanistan under the Trump administration, ramping up both troop numbers and airstrikes, it hasn’t been able to break a lengthy stalemate on the battlefield. The Taliban continues to control or contest just under half of Afghanistan, and maintains the ability to conduct devastating bomb attacks in the capital, with 150 people killed in Kabul just last month.
In recent times, both the Taliban and the Afghan government have increasingly signaled a willingness to engage in talks as a way out of the conflict. The Taliban published a 2,800-word open letter to America earlier this month, calling on Washington to come to the negotiating table and end the war.
“Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue,” the letter read, warning that the alternative was a war that would grind on indefinitely. Publicly, though, the U.S. military was dismissive of the offering, with a spokesman for the NATO-led military mission saying the Taliban’s recent bomb attacks demonstrated it wasn’t genuine about its desire for peace.
Cover image: Delegates attend the 2nd Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is calling on the Taliban to take part in peace talks to "save the country." (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)