ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, says his government has “formulated a road map” for prospective peace negotiations with Taliban insurgents to end the 17-year war in the country.
Ghani told an international conference on Afghanistan Wednesday in Geneva all the required bodies and mechanisms have been constituted after intensive national consultations.
Ghani pledged that his government is ready to move into the next phase of the Afghan peace process that would seek an agreement in which the Taliban would be included in “a democratic and inclusive society.”
The key principles, he noted, would be that the constitutional rights and obligations of all citizens, specially women, are ensured, armed groups with ties to international terrorist groups are not made part of the process and the constitution is accepted or amendments proposed in compliance with terms of the constitutional.
“We have formed our 12-person negotiation team comprised of both women and men, and led by presidential chief of staff [Abdul Salam] Rahimi. We have also formed a peace advisory board to input into the negotiation as they happen,” Ghani said.
Ghani, who plans to seek another term, described the upcoming April presidential elections as key to successful peace negotiations with the Taliban.
"The Afghan people need an elected government with a mandate to obtain ratification, implement the peace agreement and lead the societal reconciliation process as implementation will take a minimum of five years," the president said.
Ghani spoke days after U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad held a second round of talks with Taliban negotiators, who based in Qatar. Khalilzad launched his mission in September after assuming the position, calling on Ghani's government and the Taliban to appoint their “authoritative negotiating teams.”
Taliban officials have not indicated whether the insurgent group would engage in direct negotiations with the Afghan government and insist they have sought withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from the country in “preliminary” talks with Khalilzad before participating in an intra-Afghan peace process.
The Taliban considers the United States its main adversary and dismisses the government in Kabul as “American puppets.”
After his latest meetings with the Taliban earlier this month, ambassador Khalilzad said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about achieving an Afghan peace deal.
Ghani spoke on a day when Afghan officials back home said clashes between government forces, backed by airstrikes, and the Taliban in the southern Helmand province killed at least 30 civilians, along with 16 insurgents. Women and children were among the civilian casualties.
Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the deadly conflict amid United Nations warnings civilian casualties have reached new highs.
On Tuesday, a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded three others along with an American contractor near the troubled central eastern city of Ghazni.