March 7, 2018
ISLAMABAD — The Taliban’s persistent silence to a widely praised week-old dialogue offer by the Afghan government prompted President Ashraf Ghani to repeat the overture and call Wednesday for the insurgents to seek resolution of issues without further bloodshed.
Inaugurating the new session of the Afghan parliament, the president assured lawmakers his government will “not back down” from a “comprehensive plan for peace with the Taliban” he unveiled at last week’s international conference in Kabul.
“We call on the Taliban to engage in negotiations in the interest of Islam and Afghanistan so we can resolve our problems and differences without shedding blood and further destruction,” Ghani said.
The peace plan Ghani presented at the February 28 so-called Kabul Process meeting, mentions a cease-fire, offers an office for the Taliban in the national capital, and removal of international sanctions on insurgent leaders who would join the negotiations.
But the Taliban has not formally responded to Ghani’s proposal. His Wednesday remarks suggest the insurgent group has not even indirectly communicated to Kabul whether it is willing to engage in a peace process.
The spokesman for the insurgent group, Zabihullah Mujahid, while responding to VOA’s query, insisted he has not received any reaction from Taliban political officials to Ghani’s peace overture.
Ghani has made repeated peace offers to the Taliban since taking power in 2014, but the insurgent group has never directly responded to them, disregarding the Afghan government as “puppets” of American occupation forces.
US pressure for talks
In a statement issued Tuesday primarily to criticize the United States for bolstering its military presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban has indirectly dismissed Ghani’s overture as “calls for peace by the puppets of the invaders to hide their” political and military defeats.
“If the Americans wanted to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan and if they did not have the long term strategy for pursuing their interests, then what is the meaning of sending additional military advisers and soldiers to Afghanistan? Nobody can ever take such a proposition seriously,” said the Taliban statement.
The Taliban has repeatedly said it would talk only with the United States, insisting Washington, not Kabul, can decide on the primary insurgent demand for all foreign forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.
But U.S. officials dismiss those assertions and have ruled out direct talks with the Taliban.
Speaking Monday in Washington, the principal deputy assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, endorsed Ghani’s “thoughtful and comprehensive” package as the “benchmark event” for promoting Afghan peace. She emphasized the United States can help facilitate a peace process and be supportive of such an effort.
“But we certainly cannot substitute for the Afghan government and the Afghan people … I would stress that [foreign] troop presence is a sovereign decision, a decision of a government to make,” Wells noted.
She explained the United States is in Afghanistan not as an “occupying power, but as a guest of and at the invitation of the Afghan government” under a bilateral security arrangement.
The United States has lately enhanced its troop presence in Afghanistan, stepped up counterinsurgency airstrikes and transferred military hardware to the country under the new Trump war strategy to increase battlefield pressure on the Taliban to push them to the negotiating table.