Afghanistan’s president has offered the Taliban official recognition in a fresh attempt to draw its leaders to the negotiating table.
Ashraf Ghani called for a ceasefire with the militant group during the second meeting of the “Kabul process” on Wednesday, saying: “We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement.”
Mr Ghani said his administration was willing to discuss the release of certain prisoners and involving the Taliban in a review of the constitution.
The talks involve 25 countries, including Pakistan, India, the US, Russia and China. Mr Ghani used the first round of talks last year to call for peace with the Taliban, although he also upbraided Pakistan for waging “an undeclared war”.
So far, the Taliban has refused to attend talks with the government in Kabul, saying it would only deal directly with the US — something Washington has refused.
The Taliban released a statement earlier in the week saying: “We call on American officials to talk directly to the political office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary. We are the real parties, so let’s sit and talk directly, without the presence of any third party, either Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
Earlier this month the group released an unprecedented letter aimed at the US Congress and American voters, calling on them to pressure Donald Trump to end the Afghan war and enter peace talks.
The letter said: “If the policy of using force is continued for another 100 years, the outcome will be the same . . . as you have observed over the last six months since the initiation of Trump’s new strategy.”
Far from moving to end the US’s involvement in Afghanistan — one of its longest conflicts — the president has committed more troops, warning that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists . . . would instantly fill”.
Mr Trump has also ruled out direct talks with the Taliban, at least in the foreseeable future, saying: “We do not want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time.”
Others in Washington, however, have made more conciliatory noises. Last year Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, said he would be open to talks with “moderate voices” in the Taliban.
While the world leaders talk in Kabul, there are few signs of the violence relenting, with militants launching a spate of attacks in recent months.
More than 20 Afghan soldiers were killed at the weekend in multiple attacks across the country.
Last month, the Taliban claimed responsibility for suicide bomb detonated from an ambulance that killed more than 100 people in central Kabul. That attack came a week after militants stormed the city’s InterContinental Hotel, killing more than 20 people.
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