Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told a cabinet meeting that peace talks with the Taliban will start soon.
Following days of media reports that peace talks are imminent, Abdullah confirmed that authorities are moving forward with preparations, but declined to provide a specific timetable for when they would begin.
On Monday, Abdullah assured Afghans that negotiations will be held for the betterment of the country without compromising Afghanistan’s national interests. He promised to keep the nation fully informed about the opening of the peace dialogue and its progress.
“The vast majority of people of Afghanistan desire restoration of lasting peace with dignity and we hope that the beginning of peace talks [with the Taliban] will help achieve this goal,” Abdullah said.
No compromise on gains
He also said there would be no compromise on gains Afghanistan has made in the past 13 years, an apparent reference to concerns that women’s rights could be undermined in any peace deal with the militants.
The Taliban has long opposed holding peace talks while foreign troops remain in Afghanistan, and Taliban spokesmen insist their position remains unchanged.
The insurgent group claims Afghanistan remains under foreign occupation and alleges the unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani is corrupt with no authority.
However, in a policy statement issued later, the Taliban said it also favors peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and its leader Mullah Omar has repeatedly made that clear. The Taliban will continue to follow both political and military means to achieve that goal, the statement continued.
The Taliban has rejected recent reports in Pakistani media that it is sending a delegation to Islamabad to explore options for opening talks with authorities in Kabul.
The group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told VOA these reports are “misleading,” saying there are no plans of sending a Taliban delegation to Pakistan from Qatar. The militant group’s political office is located in the capital, Doha, and it uses the facility for establishing contacts with the international community.
A senior Pakistani official associated with efforts aimed at persuading the Taliban to engage in talks with Afghan negotiators told VOA that Pakistan has assured Kabul it fully supports the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan is supporting it and the effort is to somehow get the peace talks started. Everyone is wishing for this to happen, but we have yet to come to the stage where we can say the dialogue is beginning next week or it will or will not take place next month,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
The official added that discussing the timeframe for possible talks at this stage is also premature because Afghan leaders are still devising their strategy.
On Sunday, a presidential statement quoted Ghani calling upon Afghans to “seize the recently emerged peace opportunity.”
The Afghan leader, it said, was talking to former jihadi leaders at the presidential palace in Kabul.
The meeting was said to be one of a series of engagements Ghani has initiated with political parties, influential figures and civil society activists to win support for possible talks with the Taliban.