Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai speaks at a conference arranged by the Afghan diaspora, in Moscow, Russia Feb. 5, 2019.
Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai speaks at a conference arranged by the Afghan diaspora, in Moscow, Russia Feb. 5, 2019.

ISLAMABAD - The Taliban is lauding U.S. President Donald Trump for recognizing the insurgent group as “the other side” in the prolonged U.S.-led Afghan war, saying it could help ongoing peace talks with Washington. 

In a reaction posted on its official website Thursday to Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, the Taliban described it as positive and realistic for acknowledging “ground realities” in Afghanistan.  

“During his SOTU speech Donald Trump called the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) as ‘the other side,’ and the use of this term by a U.S. president showcases the deep change in the U.S. political narrative from which a positive outcome can be expected in the negotiations,” the Taliban noted in a statement. 

U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalma
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019.

The Trump administration’s special reconciliation envoy, Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, has engaged the Taliban in direct talks since last fall to purse a political solution to what Trump described in his Feb. 5, 2019, speech as “the long and bloody conflict,” now in its 18th year. 

“I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan. The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating,” Trump told Congress. The president was unclear whether an agreement will be achieved but he emphasized “the hour has come to at least try for peace. And the other side would like to do the same thing. It is time.”

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the U
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., watch, Feb. 5, 2019.

The Taliban noted in their statement that unlike his predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who would denounce the Taliban as terrorists and “hurled irrational” accusations against them in their SOTU speeches, Trump has refrained from doing so and it can “have a very positive impact” on the negotiations.

In their last meeting in Qatar in late January, Khalilzad and Taliban envoys agreed on a framework for a possible U.S. troop withdrawal in exchange for Taliban counterterrorism guarantees, saying they would set up two working groups to flesh out the details. 

Though most of the meetings until now have taken place in the Qatari capital of Doha, U.S. and Taliban negotiators will hold their next meeting on Monday in Pakistan for the first time. Leaders in Islamabad take full credit for arranging Washington’s dialogue with the Islamist group. 

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced in a statement on Wednesday that the upcoming meeting was the outcome of a “formal invitation” from the government in Islamabad and that insurgent delegates would also meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed Thursday that his country would host the U.S.-Taliban meeting. He did not share further details.

A State Department spokesperson in Washington told VOA that the department had noted the Taliban’s public announcement but had not received a formal invitation to talks.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, second from
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, second from right, applauds during the talks in Moscow, Feb. 6, 2019. The Taliban has so far refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The spokesperson added that the United States supported all steps that would lead to “genuine intra-Afghan dialogue that includes the Afghan government, the Taliban and other Afghans and encourages all countries to support this peace process. 

“We are not going to negotiate in public. This is the beginning of a long process which we continue to work through private diplomatic channels.”

The Taliban refuse to engage in talks with the Kabul government, dismissing it as an illegitimate entity, but an insurgent delegation did travel to Moscow earlier this month for a two-day “intra-Afghan peace meeting” with dozens of prominent opposition politicians from Afghanistan led by former President Hamid Karzai.

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