US-client Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Wednesday (Feb 28) proposed the recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group, as part of a process that could lead to peace negotiations and put an end to more than 16 years of war.
Ghani made the proposal during a conference of countries and organizations involved in the so-called Kabul Process aimed at setting up a platform for negotiations with the militants who control about 70% of the country.
The one-day conference in Kabul was attended by representatives from more than 20 countries and several international organizations. The Taliban was not invited.
"I call on Taliban and their leadership -- today the decision is in your hands. Accept peace -- a dignified peace -- come together to safeguard this country," Ghani said.
Ghani offered the militants a cease-fire, a release of prisoners, passports, an office in Kabul or another agreed location, and the removal of sanctions.
It was Afghanistan's most significant peace overture to the large, fractious militant organization that currently controls more territory than at any time since the 2001 U.S.-led military invasion, Los Angeles Times said adding: Ghani's peace overture reflects an understanding -- shared not only by the U.S. and its allies but also the Taliban -- that the Afghan war will not be settled militarily and that the growing cost in Afghan lives is unsustainable.
The Taliban refuses to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, which it calls a "puppet regime," instead demanding to speak to the United States, the largest contributor of troops to the war.
"It would help in finding a solution if America accepts the legitimate demands of the Afghan people and forward its own concerns and requests for discussion to the Islamic Emirate through a peaceful channel," the Taliban said in an open letter to the American people last week.
The Trump administration rejected the Taliban proposal, with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert saying: "Any peace talks with Afghanistan have to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned."
New York Times
There appears little chance of any breakthrough, but the Afghan government made the offer to demonstrate to an international audience that it is willing to negotiate, and to encourage those participating in the conference to pressure the Taliban to accept, according to the New York Times. The government is under pressure to offer incentives as the United States increases military pressure.
The Taliban's main faction has insisted on direct negotiations with the United States and dismisses the American-backed government in Kabul as a puppet, the paper said adding:
"The Taliban has yet to respond to Mr. Ghani's proposal. But in a statement on Monday, they said they had asked American officials to talk directly to their political office, and not through the Afghan government. The statement also said that "military strategies which have repeatedly been tested in Afghanistan over the past 17 years will only intensify and prolong the war."
While the insurgents dominate only a sliver of the country, they still hold substantial sway. The Taliban collect taxes from businesses and run a shadow judicial system for settling disputes, preferred by some Afghans over the corrupt government courts.
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