Afghan president offers to recognise Taliban to end war

Afghan president offers to recognise Taliban to end war

Ashraf Ghani proposes ceasefire and release of prisoners as part of possible pact with militants

The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has offered to recognise the Taliban as a legitimate political group as part of a process that he said could lead to talks to end more than 16 years of war.

The offer, made on Wednesday at the start of an international conference aimed at creating a platform for peace discussions, is the latest signal from the western-backed government and the Taliban of greater willingness to consider dialogue.

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and the release of prisoners as part of a range of options including elections, involving the militant group in the political process, and a constitutional review under a pact with the Taliban.

“We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement,” he said in opening remarks to the conference attended by officials from about 25 countries involved in the so-called Kabul process.

“The Taliban are expected to give input to the peacemaking process, the goal of which is to draw the Taliban, as an organisation, to peace talks.”

The comments represented a significant shift for Ghani, who has previously referred to the Taliban as “terrorists” and “rebels”, although he has also offered to talk to parts of the movement that accepted peace.

The Taliban, which is fighting to restore Islamic rule in Afghanistan after its 2001 ousting by US-led forces, has offered to begin talks with the US but so far refused direct discussions with Kabul. It was unclear whether it would be prepared to shift this stance, despite growing international pressure.

Ghani said momentum for an end to the conflict was building from neighbouring countries that increasingly believed in the necessity of a stable Afghanistan.

“The Taliban show awareness of these contextual shifts and seem to be engaged in a debate on the implications of acts of violence for their future,” he said.

Ghani said a framework for peace negotiations should be created, under which the Taliban is recognised as a legitimate group, with a political office to handle negotiations in Kabul or another location.

Taliban officials acknowledged that they have faced pressure from friendly countries to accept talks and said their recent offer of discussions with the US reflected concern that they could be seen as standing in the way of peace.

In return for recognition as a legitimate political group, the Taliban would have to recognise the Afghan government and respect the rule of law, Ghani said.

Taliban prisoners could be released and have their names removed from international blacklists, while security arrangements could be made if the Taliban agreed to join a process of reconciliation. Former fighters and refugees could be reintegrated and provided with jobs.

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