Kabul: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group on Wednesday as part of a proposed political process that he said could lead to talks aimed at ending more than 16 years of war.
The offer, made at the start of an international conference aimed at creating a platform for peace talks, adds to a series of signals from both the Western-backed government and the Taliban suggesting a greater willingness to consider dialogue.
Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners as part of a range of options including new elections, involving the militants, and a constitutional review as part of a pact with the Taliban. “We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement,” Ghani said in opening remarks to the conference attended by officials from around 25 countries involved in the so-called Kabul Process.
“The Taliban are expected to give input to the peace-making process, the goal of which is to draw the Taliban, as an organisation, to peace talks,” he said, adding that he would not “pre-judge” any group seeking peace.
The comments represented a significant shift for Ghani, who in the past has regularly called the Taliban “terrorists” and “rebels” although he has also offered to talk with parts of the movement that accepted peace.
The Taliban, fighting to restore Islamic rule after their 2001 ouster by US-led troops, have offered to begin talks with the United States but have so far refused direct talks with Kabul. It was unclear whether they would be prepared to shift their stance, despite growing international pressure.
However, Ghani, who recently helped launch the latest stage in a major regional gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, said the momentum for peace was building from neighbouring countries that increasingly saw the necessity of a stable Afghanistan. “The Taliban show awareness of these contextual shifts and seem to be engaged in a debate on the implications of acts of violence for their future,” he said.
Ghani said a framework for peace negotiations should be created with the Taliban recognised as a legitimate group, with their own political office to handle negotiations in Kabul or another agreed location. Taliban officials have acknowledged that they have faced pressure from friendly countries to accept talks and said their recent offers to talk to the United States reflected concern that they could be seen to be standing in the way of peace.