KABUL: The Taliban said on Wednesday they wanted to end Afghanistan’s war through dialogue but warned that their willingness to find peace did not mean they were exhausted and that their armed campaign would be sustained no matter how powerful the US opposition.

A more aggressive US strategy in Afghanistan including a surge in air strikes introduced by President Donald Trump in August has pushed the Taliban back from several district centres and two provincial capitals.

But militants control large parts of the countryside and have responded to the more aggressive US strategy with two attacks in Kabul in the past few weeks, killing nearly 150 people.

The attacks have toughened stands of both the US and Afghan governments on trying to initiate talks to end nearly 17 years of war that neither side seems capable of winning.

The Taliban offer of dialogue came in a statement addressed to the American people.

“Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue,” the Afghan Taliban said.

In their statement, the militants did not mention a Jan 27 raid on a top Kabul hotel, in which more than 30 people were killed nor a bomb attack on a crowded street a week later that killed more than 100. They claimed both attacks.

The Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and defeat the US-backed Afghan government, said the United States must end its “occupation” and accept the Taliban’s right to form a government “consistent with the beliefs of our people”.

The militants only mentioned the Afghan government to deride it on various grounds.

A government spokesman declined to comment on the statement and a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Nato-led military mission was not immediately available for comment.

It was not too late for the American people to realise the Taliban can solve problems with every side “through healthy politics and dialogue”, the militants said, adding the chances for dialogue had “not been exhausted”.

Preliminary talks on ending the war that kills thousands of people each year have stalled. But low-level contacts between the government, international groups including the United Nations and groups close to the Taliban have continued even as the insurgency has escalated.

Progress has been blocked by the deep mistrust between the government and the Taliban, as well as uncertainty about the position of neighbours including Pakistan, which Afghanistan has long accused of aiding the insurgents. Pakistan rejects accusations that it sponsors the Taliban.

The militants said their willingness to play a “constructive role in finding a peaceful solution” should not be taken as a sign of weakness.

“This can never mean that we are exhausted or our will has been sapped,” they said.

They said they had no intention to damage any other country or let anyone use Afghan territory against anyone else.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2018

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