Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani called Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday to discuss an imminent start of a reconciliation dialogue with the Afghan Taliban as the group for the first time publicly indicated that it could be considering the proposal.
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, President Ghani telephoned Prime Minister Sharif and thanked him for “sending Chief of the Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif to Afghanistan” last week. The Afghan leader was quoted by sources as having thanked the government for its “sincere cooperation for peace”. Gen Sharif, during his meetings in Kabul, had conveyed to the Afghan leaders that the Taliban were willing to open peace talks with their government. Media leaks about the message carried by Gen Sharif prompted a knee-jerk reaction from the Taliban, who immediately denied planning talks with anyone and changing their policy about dialogue. But days after the blunt reaction, they gave a more mature response, saying that they were not rejecting outright the Pakistani proposal for dialogue with the Afghan government. A Taliban spokesman said in a statement sent to the media: “Our policy is very clear about the peace process — we want peace and reconciliation.”
He said Taliban’s engagement with some countries, participation in conferences and continuation of their political office in Qatar despite former Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s opposition indicated the group’s desire for peace. He said the Taliban would continue to use both political and military means for attaining their goal. In a separate statement given to Voice of America, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah rejected as ‘misleading’ media reports about a delegation of his group visiting Pakistan. A Pakistani official aware of the developments in efforts for kick starting the dialogue for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan welcomed the Taliban statement as positive. Regarding speculation that the dialogue could commence next month, he said it would be counter-productive to give dates and set timeframes for such processes. “The important thing is that matters are moving in the right direction and there is a lot of positivity in the air,” he added. Besides the Taliban statement coinciding with President Ghani’s call, the conversation took place at a time when the Afghan leader started extensive discussions in Kabul with his country’s High Peace Council and former Jihadi leaders for developing support for the likely dialogue.
“President Ghani stated that a great opportunity has been created for ensuring peace in Afghanistan, and that the Afghan nation should exploit this opportunity and take effective steps forward,” the Afghan presidency said in a statement on his meeting with the council. “Grounds were more paved now than ever before for peace in the country and it was upon the nation to use the opportunities towards achieving a lasting peace as a long-awaited desire,” he told former militant leaders Abdurrab Rasool Sayaf and Mohammad Ismail Khan. But, much like the Pakistan Army that last week warned against ‘detractors’, President Ghani is also worried about pre-mature media leaks and conspiracies against the likely talks. He expressed these concerns in various statements over the weekend. Throwing President Ghani’s caution to wind, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told a cabinet meeting that dialogue with Taliban would begin soon. The media quoted Mr Abdullah as telling his cabinet colleagues that preparations for the dialogue were afoot. He too, however, avoided giving any date for the dialogue.