ISLAMABAD - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reiterated Wednesday he is ready to hold direct peace talks with the Taliban leader, Mawlawi Hibatulluah Akhunzada, anywhere he wants.
In an opinion piece published by the New York Times Wednesday, Ghani called for building on unprecedented separate cease-fires his government and the Taliban observed this month during three-day Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr.
The insurgents rejected calls for extending their Eid truce but Kabul unilaterally extended its week-long cease-fire for 10 days.
Ghani wrote that he is seeking dialogue with Akhunzada to meet demands of Afghan peace marchers who walked more than 600-kilometers to Kabul from the southern province of Helmand this month with pleas to all sides to end decades of conflict in the country.
“I accepted their demands, extended the government’s cease-fire for 10 more days and announced that I will sit and negotiate with the Taliban’s leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, anywhere he wants,” Ghani wrote.
The Afghan leader called on the insurgent leadership to also accept the demands and extend the cease-fire and agree on a venue for peace talks in “good faith.”
While the group of peace marchers have gained prominence both inside and outside Afghanistan, the Taliban on Monday rejected their pleas for an extension in its cease-fire. The insurgent group urged civil society activists and others not to join movements it alleged played into the hands of U.S. and international forces the Taliban is fighting to expel from the country.
"They are not speaking about the occupation or the withdrawal of foreigners. Their objective is that we lay down our weapons and accept the regime imposed by the invaders," said the insurgent statement. The Taliban has been seeking direct talks with the U.S. saying talks with the "puppet" Afghan government in the presence of foreign forces are nothing but waste of time.
Meanwhile, the group of Helmand peace marchers Wednesday gathered outside the U.S. embassy in Kabul, chanting pro-peace slogans and calling on Washington to seek ways for ending the Afghan war.
The activists also plan to stage similar demonstrations in front of Iranian, Russian and Pakistani embassies. The three countries are accused of covertly supporting the Taliban, charges they countries deny.