Taliban call for direct talks with US

28 Feb 2018

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KABUL: The Taliban have called for direct talks with the US to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, in an apparent policy shift after months of escalating attacks.

Civilian casualties surged in recent months as Taliban militants unleashed a wave of bloodshed in urban areas and on security forces in response to a new open-ended military policy by US President Donald Trump.

In a statement issued late on Monday, the Taliban said they called “on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary”, using the name they use for themselves.

Militant commander rules out including Pakistan and Afghanistan in dialogue

The statement referenced local reports that said US envoy Alice Wells had suggested during a recent visit to Kabul that a window was still open for talks.

It came days before the second round of a regional peace conference in Kabul, where representatives from 25 countries will discuss counter-terrorism and conflict resolution strategies in the war, which US officials have described as a stalemate.

Washington has long called for talks with the Taliban, but historically insisted that any dialogue must include the Afghan government in Kabul. There has been no response to the Taliban’s offer from US officials.

Kabul urged the militants to take “practical steps”, with government spokesman Haroon Chakhansori adding that “all doors for peace talks are open”.

“If they are Afghans they should come and talk to the Afghan government, the US will not talk to them,” he told a press conference.

But a senior Taliban commander said on Tuesday that the group had little interest in including the Afghan government — or Islamabad — in the potential sit down.

“We are the real parties, so let’s sit and talk directly, without the presence of any third party, either Pakistan or Afghanistan,” the commander said.

The apparent openness to negotiations is unusual for the militant group, which has repeatedly stated that it will not enter talks until foreign troops leave the country.

Afghan political analyst Abdul Bari said increased US pressure on the Taliban and on Pakistan in recent months had forced the militants’ hand.

But he urged caution, saying that both the US and the Taliban had used such carrot and stick policies for years. “It is too soon to know whether they are very honest this time. The group has always rejected any talks offer in the past,” he said.

More than 16 years since the US invasion, less than 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory is under the Afghan government’s control or influence, Nato figures have shown, with the rest controlled or contested by the Taliban and other militant groups.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018