Afghan President Ashraf Ghani unveils plan for peace talks with Taleban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called for a truce, after which the Taleban could become a political party and contest elections.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called for a truce, after which the Taleban could become a political party and contest elections.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday (Feb 28) unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taleban, including eventually recognising them as a political party, days after the militants called for direct negotiations with the US.

Civilian casualties have soared in recent months as the Taleban increasingly targets towns and cities in response to a new and more aggressive US military policy ordered by President Donald Trump.

Ghani disclosed the framework at a regional conference in Kabul on bringing peace to his country. He called for a truce, after which the Taleban could become a political party and contest elections.

"A ceasefire should be held, the Taleban should be recognised as a political party and trust-building process should be initiated," said Ghani, in remarks similar to past offers.

"Now the decision is in your hands, accept peace... and let's bring stability to this country," he added.

In return, Ghani said the militants should officially recognise the Afghan government and the Constitution, a perennial sticking point in past attempts to open talks.

On Monday, the Taleban said it was prepared to enter direct talks with the United States to find a "peaceful solution" to more than 16 years of war.

Its statement, however, made no mention of negotiating with the Afghan government - a condition which the US has long stated was vital to any peace process.

Pakistani journalist and Taleban expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said the insurgents' leadership remained committed to the US-only position, but others in the movement were less dogmatic about talking with Kabul.

"There are some people among the Taleban who believe that they will have to negotiate with the Afghan government," said Yusufzai.

He added that the militants have suffered heavy casualties under the new US strategy of increased airstrikes and commando raids.

Despite the losses, Yusufzai said the group would continue the insurgency. "They derive their power from their ability to keep fighting," he said.

Kabul is hosting the second round of the peace conference at which representatives from 25 countries will discuss counter-terrorism and conflict resolution strategies. US officials have described the current situation in the war as a stalemate.