KABUL • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered recognition of the Taleban as a legitimate political group yesterday as part of a proposed political process that he said could lead to talks aimed at ending more than 16 years of war.
The offer, made at the start of a global conference aimed at creating a platform for peace talks, adds to a series of signals from both the Western-backed government and the Taleban suggesting a greater willingness to consider dialogue.
Mr Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners as part of a range of options, including new elections involving the militants, and a constitutional review as part of a pact with the Taleban.
"We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement," Mr Ghani said in opening remarks to the conference attended by officials from around 25 countries involved in the so-called Kabul Process.
"The Taleban are expected to give input to the peacemaking process, the goal of which is to draw the Taleban, as an organisation, to peace talks," he said.
The comments represent a significant shift for Mr Ghani, who in the past has called the Taleban "terrorists" and "rebels" although he has also offered to talk with parts of the movement that accepted peace.
The Taleban, fighting to restore Islamic rule after their 2001 ouster by US-led troops, have offered to begin talks with Washington but have so far refused direct dialogue with Kabul. It was unclear whether they would want to shift their stance.
However, Mr Ghani said the momentum for peace was building from neighbouring countries that increasingly saw the necessity of a stable Afghanistan. He also said a framework for peace negotiations should be created with the Taleban recognised as a legitimate group, with their own political office to handle negotiations.
Taleban officials have acknowledged that they have faced pressure from friendly countries to accept talks and said their recent offer to talk to the US reflected concern that they could be seen to be standing in the way of peace.
Mr Ghani said in return for his offer, the Taleban would have to recognise the Afghan government and respect the rule of law.
The United States last year stepped up its military assistance to Afghanistan with the aim of breaking a stalemate with the insurgents and forcing them to the negotiating table.