VOA News / December 28, 2017
Hasib Danish Alikozai
Afghan religious leaders Wednesday called on the Afghan Taliban to sever ties with terror groups and join the Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process.
The High Peace Council (HPC), a government-funded body tasked with bringing insurgents to negotiations, invited more than 700 religious scholars from all 34 provinces of Afghanistan for a two-day conference in the capital, Kabul, to discuss peace efforts to help end the country’s 16-year bloody insurgency.
“Taliban should remove all those elements from their ranks and files that have ties with international terrorism and have no respect for Islamic and Afghan values,” read a joint declaration released at the end of the conference.
Attaullah Faizani, a religious scholar who attended the conference, said the Taliban must cease violence.
“Taliban must respect the aspirations of the Afghan people and join the Afghan-owned and intra-Afghan peace talks,” Faizani said. “Whatever their demands are must be discussed peacefully through negotiations. They must immediately cease violence, suicide attacks, explosions and the targeting of innocent civilians.”
The declaration also calls on the Afghan government to be flexible and patient with the peace process.
Addressing the conference in Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his government had no reservations about endorsing the demands of the religious scholars. He went on to criticize the insurgents.
“We accept all of it [the demands of the scholars], but I hope that the Taliban also endorses your demands to prove who has the commitment and the intention for peace,” Ghani said.
Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, an adviser to the Afghan president and CEO of the Executive Secretariat of the High Peace Council, told the gathering that the government seeks a dignified resolution of the Afghan conflict.
“We say we want peace with dignity. We do not want surrender. Rather we insist that we do not have any conditions for the beginning of direct negotiations,” Khpalwak said. “If they [Taliban] have any conditions, they should put them on the table.”
The HPC apparently is using its peace talks with the leader of the Hezb-e Islami political party, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as a model for the Taliban to get the insurgent group to talk with the Afghan government and end its armed insurgency.
Hekmatyar, a former U.S.-designated global terrorist, returned to Kabul in May of this year after almost two decades in hiding, following a peace deal with the Afghan government.
The Afghan government is expected to announce its peace strategy with the Taliban in the upcoming Kabul Process conference. Representatives of several countries and international organizations are expected to attend the conference.
A day after the religious scholars’ conference, a suicide attack Thursday at a Shiite Muslim center west of Kabul killed more than 40 people and injured another 80, including women and children.
The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.
VOA’s Afghanistan service contributed to this report.