Afghan president calls on Taliban to 'enter serious talks' with Kabul

Updated January 28, 2019

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Afghan president Ashraf Ghani (C) talks with US special representative for Afghan Peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (top L) during a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul. — AFP
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani (C) talks with US special representative for Afghan Peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (top L) during a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul. — AFP

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to “enter serious talks” with the government in Kabul on Monday, following unprecedented marathon negotiations between the insurgents and the US in Qatar last week.

“I call on the Taliban to... show their Afghan will, and accept Afghans' demand for peace, and enter serious talks with the Afghan government,” he said in a nationally televised address from the presidential palace in Kabul.

Afghan authorities have previously complained of being excluded from the discussions in Qatar, and warned that any deal between the US and the Taliban would require Kabul's endorsement.

However the Taliban have long refused to speak directly to Ghani's government, branding them “puppets”.

Ghani spoke hours after his office released a statement saying that US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had assured them that the focus of the talks in Qatar remains finding a way to facilitate peace negotiations between the militants and Kabul.

Read: FM Qureshi assures US envoy Khalilzad of Pakistan's continued efforts for Afghan peace

Khalilzad arrived in Afghanistan late on Sunday after six days of talks between Taliban representatives and US officials in Doha.

Both parties have cited “progress” as hopes rise that the unprecedented length of the negotiations could mean a deal paving the way for Afghan peace talks may be in sight, although sticking points remain.

“We want peace, we want it fast but we want it with a plan,” Ghani continued on Monday. “We should not forget that the victims of this war are Afghans and the peace process should also be Afghan-led. “

Earlier, in a statement released by the presidential palace in Kabul, Khalilzad said: “The US insisted in their talks with the Taliban that the only solution for lasting peace in Afghanistan is intra-Afghan talks."

“My role is to facilitate” such talks between the insurgents and Kabul, Khalilzad said according to Ghani, adding that the discussions are ongoing.

The palace said that Khalilzad also confirmed that no agreement had been made on the withdrawal of foreign troops, adding that any such decision would be coordinated and discussed in detail with the Afghan government.

The Taliban have insisted on the withdrawal of foreign troops, and US President Donald Trump's clear eagerness to end America's longest war has weighed on the negotiations.

On Saturday, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that until a withdrawal timetable is decided progress on other issues is “impossible”.

The palace's statement also said Khalilzad denied reports that the issue of an interim government had been raised, and that the US and the Taliban had agreed on a timetable for a US withdrawal and a ceasefire.

“We have discussed a ceasefire with the Taliban, but there is no progress so far,” Khalilzad said, according to the statement.

Speculation of an interim government is “absolutely wrong”, he added, saying there were no discussions about the future government in the talks with the Taliban.

Afghans have expressed tentative hopes about the talks tempered by fears about an American exit, with Afghan security forces taking staggering losses, the government facing election upheaval, and civilians paying a disproportionate price after nearly two decades of bloodshed.

The Taliban and US officials have agreed to continue negotiations, though no date has been publicly announced.