President Ashraf Ghani on Monday called on the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the government.
In an address to the nation at lunchtime, Ghani also assured the people that their rights will not be compromised in the name of peace and that the country’s sovereignty will be upheld.
He said the Taliban has two choices at the moment – to either stand with the people of Afghanistan or be used as a tool by other countries.
Ghani said concerted efforts were being carried out for peace but at the same time government was also working hard to develop the country.
He said the government was committed to ending the 40-year-old war and said that this was the wish of all Afghans.
On the issue of foreign troops in the country, he said no country wants this indefinitely but that currently, Afghanistan needs these forces.
He said the foreign troops in the country would leave at some point, but that this would be done in accordance with an orderly plan.
Ghani did not mention the Qatar talks between the US and Taliban, that ended on Saturday, and has as yet not directly commented on any developments.
However, his address to the nation centered on peace and on the issue of troops withdrawal.
His address also came after reported discussions between him and the US’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who arrived in Kabul on Sunday after six days of talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.
Until now, the Taliban has refused to sit with the Afghan government, which it sees as illegitimate. However, they have held four rounds of talks with the US since last year.
One of their key conditions however is the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan – a topic that Ghani did raise in his speech.
Although he did not give any details about discussions between himself and Khalilzad he appeared to stand firm in his demand that the Taliban engage directly with Kabul.
US Upbeat About Progress
With Khalilzad and his boss US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as Taliban officials, hailing progress toward ending America’s longest war, Khalizad was the one expected to report back to Ghani on last week’s talks.
To date, the Taliban have kept Kabul out of the process.
The six days of talks ended in Qatar on Saturday after initially being scheduled for only two days and Taliban sources said key parts of a draft pact were mapped out, including an 18-month timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops after the completion of a deal.
Ghani did not give any details on this but did touch on the subject and said no Afghan wants foreign forces in the country and that a withdrawal of these troops would be carried out in accordance with a plan.
Another key area reportedly discussed in the talks was that of the Taliban giving assurances that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used by al-Qaeda or Daesh to attack the US and its allies.Ghani did not mention this in his speech.
Taliban sources meanwhile said after the talks that the group wants to be part of an interim government following any ceasefire. Again Ghani did not mention anything about this except to call on the Taliban to engage in direct dialogue.
A fresh round of talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban is expected to take place on February 25 in Doha, two senior Taliban sources told Reuters on Sunday.
While he has not been directly involved up until now, Ghani’s role is likely to grow as a full deal gets closer and diplomacy intensifies.
Without going into detail on Saturday night, Khalilzad said in tweets that nothing could be agreed without an intra-Afghan dialogue and a full ceasefire.
“He (Khalilzad) will inform Ghani and his officials about all the developments, seek their opinion before traveling back to Washington,” a senior Afghan official said on condition of anonymity.
Khalilzad is also due to brief top regional diplomats on Monday morning.
Reuters reported Sunday that Western diplomats describe Ghani as being in a tight spot, with no authority to decide on the troop departure and the final decision to declare the ceasefire resting with the Taliban.
He, however does enjoy the power to decide to support an interim government rather than push for presidential elections which could prove to be a distraction to the peace effort, the report read.
So far he has rejected talk of an interim government. “It is time for Ghani to choose between elections or peace process,” said a Western diplomat based in Kabul.
Despite the progress around peace, violence is widely expected to continue, with the Taliban mounting daily attacks against the Afghan government and its security forces.
The Taliban now control about half of Afghanistan’s territory and Ghani said in Switzerland last week that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.