Taleban and Afghan officials in ceasefire talks

A wounded Afghan girl and her weeping relatives at Wazir Akbar Khan hospital after a gun and bomb attack on the Interior Ministry in Kabul on Wednesday.
A wounded Afghan girl and her weeping relatives at Wazir Akbar Khan hospital after a gun and bomb attack on the Interior Ministry in Kabul on Wednesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • Senior Taleban officials have been secretly negotiating with Afghan officials on a possible ceasefire, the Pentagon said, even as US forces killed more than 50 Taleban leaders in a series of strikes.

"A lot of the diplomatic activity and dialogue is occurring off the stage, and it's occurring at multiple levels," General John Nicholson, who has been in charge of the US war in Afghanistan since March 2016, told reporters during a conference call at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

He would not identify the figures involved in the negotiations, except to say that they included mid-and senior-level Taleban officials. "I should point out they met in secret. This is how they were able to advance the talks," he said, adding that the success of the effort depends in part on the "confidentiality of the process".

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in late February proposed peace talks with the Taleban, saying they could be recognised as a political party if they accepted a ceasefire and recognised the country's 2004 Constitution.

The Taleban had not officially responded, but deadly attacks have proliferated since then, particularly in Kabul, which has become the most dangerous place in the country for civilians.

On Wednesday, militants launched a gun and bomb attack on the Interior Ministry in Kabul, killing a policeman in another demonstration of their ability to strike at the heart of the Afghan capital. The Taleban also claimed responsibility for a pre-dawn attack on a police station in the capital of Logar province, about 70km south-east of Kabul, which killed six police officers.

But Gen Nicholson, who has sought to drive the Taleban to the negotiating table by bringing to bear increased US military pressure, maintained that violence and progress can coexist. He likened the situation in Afghanistan to that of Colombia where the fighting continued up until the Farc guerilla group and the government signed a peace accord in 2016.

BEHIND THE SCENES

A lot of the diplomatic activity and dialogue is occurring off the stage, and it's occurring at multiple levels.

GENERAL JOHN NICHOLSON, who has been in charge of the US war in Afghanistan since March 2016.

In a statement on Wednesday, the US command in Afghanistan said the strikes against those behind a recent attack in the Helmand provincial capital of Farah resulted in "more than 50 casualties".

Among the dead was the No. 2 Taleban leader in Helmand, Abdul Manan, and several district governors and local leaders in Kandahar, Kunduz, Herat, Farah, Uruzgan and Helmand provinces.

After pushing out the Taleban fighters in Farah, Afghan and US forces continued to pursue them, Gen Nicholson told reporters. On May 24, they were spotted in a known Taleban command centre in Musa Qala, he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2018, with the headline 'Taleban and Afghan officials in ceasefire talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe