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Afghan Conference to Renew Call for Unconditional Taliban Talks

FILE - Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a panel discussion at Asia Society in New York, Sept. 20, 2017.
FILE - Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a panel discussion at Asia Society in New York, Sept. 20, 2017.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will host an international conference Wednesday where, officials say, he will renew his call for “unconditional” peace talks with the Taliban and invite the insurgent group to open an office in Kabul for that purpose.

A presidential spokesman told reporters Tuesday the offer will be made under a proposed “comprehensive plan for peace” strategy the president will unveil at the so-called “Kabul Process” meeting, where representatives from over 20 countries and international organizations will be in attendance.

“The Afghan government has no preconditions for opening talks and hopes the Taliban will accept the offer to help bring a stable and durable peace to Afghanistan,” said Haroon Chakhansuri. He said the government is ready to take steps to encourage such a dialogue and will ensure security for Taliban envoys if they agree to come to Kabul.

“The government would prefer to hold these negotiations in Kabul, or anywhere in Afghanistan. But if the Taliban want to hold talks outside Afghanistan, the government is ready, provided they are held in an Islamic country not involved in the conflict, or at an office of the United Nations,” explained Chakhansuri.

The Taliban has been refusing to hold talks with the Afghan government, calling officials “American puppets.”

In a statement issued ahead of the second "Kabul Process" conference, the Taliban reiterated Monday it will engage in direct talks only with the United States, blaming the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan for a continuation of the war, now in its 17th year.

“The Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban] calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary,” the statement said, referring to the Qatar-based Taliban office.

The insurgent group issued the statement in response to recent remarks by Alice Wells, a senior U.S. State Department diplomat, who said the “door is open” for talks with the Taliban.

Wells told VOA earlier this week that the "Kabul Process” meeting would aim to make clear that there was the potential for dialogue.

"I'm confident that the conference is going to push forward regional efforts to enforce what has been our most important message to the Taliban — that the door is open, there is a path to peace and stability," she said.

"It would help in finding a solution if America accepts the legitimate demands of the Afghan people and forwards its own concerns and requests for discussion to the Islamic Emirate through a peaceful channel," noted the Taliban statement.

The U.S. has turned down previous Taliban offers of direct talks and urged the group to engage in a peace and reconciliation process with the “legitimate” Afghan government.

Chakhansuri also reminded the Taliban of Washington’s peace dialogue refusal and called on insurgents to seek a resolution through an intra-Afghan reconciliation process.

The presidential spokesman insisted the proposed peace plan framework to be unveiled Wednesday has been prepared after months of consultations and input from all segments across the Afghan society, calling it a national consensus document.

Without sharing further details, Chakhansuri said that recommendations on how to tackle regional terrorism and further a peaceful relationship with neighboring Pakistan are also included in the proposed plan.

The opening meeting of the so-called Kabul Process was held in July last year. The latest round is taking place at a time when the U.S. military has stepped up airstrikes in support of Afghan ground security forces to break the battlefield stalemate and pressure the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

But the insurgents say they have not lost “an inch” of the Afghan territory under their control in the face of increased U.S. and Afghan military operations, and hostilities are expected to intensify in the coming summer fighting season. The Taliban controls or contests 44 percent of Afghan territory.

U.S. and Afghan officials maintain that insurgent sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan have enabled the Taliban to sustain and expand insurgent activities, charges Islamabad denies. The allegations are at the center of Pakistan’s tensions with Afghanistan and Washington.