Tue, Jan 29, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Afghan president calls for direct talks with Taliban

BRIEFINGs:US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Kabul officials on the Qatar talks. An unnamed US official said Washington is committed to the pullout of foreign forces

AFP, KABUL

A handout photograph shows Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, in talks yesterday with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, top left, during a Cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul.

Photo: AFP / Afghan Presidential Palace

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani yesterday called on the Taliban to “enter serious talks” with the government, following unprecedented marathon negotiations between the insurgents and the US in Qatar last week.

“I call on the Taliban to ... show their Afghan will, and accept Afghans’ demand for peace, and enter serious talks with the Afghan government,” he said in a nationally televised address from the presidential palace in Kabul.

Afghan authorities have previously complained of being excluded from the discussions in Qatar, and warned that any deal between the US and the Taliban would require Kabul’s endorsement.

However the Taliban have long refused to speak directly to Ghani’s government, branding it “puppets.”

Ghani spoke hours after his office released a statement saying that US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had assured them that the focus of the talks in Qatar remains finding a way to facilitate peace negotiations between the militants and Kabul.

Khalilzad arrived in Afghanistan late on Sunday after six days of talks between Taliban representatives and US officials in Doha.

Both parties have cited “progress” as hopes rise that the unprecedented length of the negotiations could mean a deal paving the way for Afghan peace talks may be in sight, although sticking points remain.

“We want peace, we want it fast but we want it with a plan,” Ghani said. “We should not forget that the victims of this war are Afghans and the peace process should also be Afghan-led.”

“The US insisted in their talks with the Taliban that the only solution for lasting peace in Afghanistan is intra-Afghan talks,” Khalilzad said, according to a statement released by the presidential palace. “My role is to facilitate” such talks.

The palace said Khalilzad also confirmed that no agreement had been made on the withdrawal of foreign troops, adding that any such decision would be coordinated and discussed in detail with the Afghan government.

The statement also said Khalilzad denied reports that the issue of an interim government had been raised, or that the US and the Taliban had agreed on a timetable for a US withdrawal and a ceasefire.

“We have discussed a ceasefire with the Taliban, but there is no progress so far,” Khalilzad said, according to the statement.

Speculation of an interim government is “absolutely wrong,” he added, saying there were no discussions about the future government in the talks with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, a senior US government official yesterday told Reuters that Washington was committed to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

The official, who declined to be identified, described “significant progress” in Qatar on a foreign troop pullout, but more negotiations were needed on a ceasefire and its timing.

“Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post peace government,” the official said. “We would like to leave a good legacy.”

The official said progress was made on addressing US concerns that Afghanistan is not used as a base by al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group for attacks against the US and its allies.

Further talks are due to start in Qatar on Feb. 25.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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