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WASHINGTON: Afghan Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, has renewed his call for direct talks with the United States to end the war in Afghanistan.

“If the American officials truly believe in a peaceful end to the Afghan imbroglio then they must directly present themselves to the negotiation table,” he said in an Eidul Fitr message, posted on the official Taliban website Alemarah on Tuesday.

The official Voice of Ame­rica (VOA) radio, which was the first to report the offer, observed that the Taliban call for direct talks with Wa­­shington had dashed “re­­newed hopes (that) the insurgent group might be mulling to engage in a peace dialogue with the Kabul government”.

Earlier this week, the Tali­ban accepted Kabul’s offer for a temporary ceasefire to allow “all Afghans to peacefully celebrate Eid” with their families. The US and Pakistan governments also supported the ceasefire, hoping that it would open the door to peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

As VOA observed, a surprise phone call by US Sec­retary of State Mike Pompeo to Pakistan’s military chief last week “confirmed the two countries have resumed joint efforts for a peaceful resolution to the increasingly deadly Afghan conflict”.

On Tuesday, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa travelled to Kabul and discussed the latest peace efforts with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Gen Bajwa’s visit took place on the day when the week-long ceasefire began.

In a statement issued after the visit, Gen Bajwa wished that such “steps gain more of a permanence ultimately leading towards an enduring peace” in Afghanistan.

But Mullah Akhundzada insisted that only direct talks between the Taliban and the US government can end “this tragedy (the war), the destructive effects of which mainly harm the American and Afghan people”.

The Taliban chief justified his group’s military campa­ign, citing the presence of US-led foreign occupation forces in the country and reminded Washington that “force cannot yield results in every case”.

Akhundzada accu­­sed US forces of bombing Afghan villages to subdue and impose their own ideology on Afghans.

The VOA report noted that the US has already rejected Taliban calls for direct talks and has asked them to talk to the Afghan government first.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2018