The Taliban, after waging a war on the Afghan government for more than a decade, causing thousands of Americans and Afghans to lose their lives, signaled a willingness to engage in peace negotiations, even as insurgents launched their annual warm-weather offensive across Afghanistan.
An eight-member Taliban delegation participated in informal “open discussions” with 15 Afghan government officials in Qatar during a two-day regional conference that began on Saturday, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Both sides emphasized that peace negotiations were not the subject of the talks, which they referred to as “open discussions.”
Following the informal discussions between the two warring sides, the Taliban released a statement on Monday expressing a willingness to soften its stance on various issues, including previously intractable issues such as the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, reports the Associated Press (AP).
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan once again as a policy clearly states that it does not want to harm others and also won’t allow anyone to use Afghan soil against others,” the Taliban reportedly said, using its formal name.
“For the happiness of the nation,” the Taliban wants “cooperation in all sectors with all countries, including neighbors, and welcomes the efforts of anyone in bringing peace to Afghanistan,” added the statement.
The statement came as a Taliban suicide bomber struck a bus carrying Afghan government employees, killing one.
On April 24, the group officially launched its annual warm-weather offensive with an attack in Kunduz, a city located in northern Afghanistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants the Taliban to join the Afghan government, but the terrorist group has not expressed any desire to do so.
Since taking office last September, Ghani has made repeated attempts to persuade the Taliban to end Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict.
In February, President Ghani indicated that a breakthrough was near, but those efforts fell apart.
Most of the Taliban leadership is based in Pakistan, and Mr. Ghani reportedly hoped that Islamabad would use its influence over the Taliban to pressure the group to come to the negotiating table.
“But ahead of Mr. Ghani’s official trip to the U.S. in late March, Pakistani officials came back with an answer: the Taliban had rejected the offer, according to an Afghan official,” reports WSJ.
“Before the Taliban said anything, Pakistan said: They don’t want to talk peace,” the Afghan official told the newspaper. “Pakistan proved that they don’t want stability in Afghanistan.”
“Pakistan has repeatedly said it wants a stable Afghanistan, and while it acknowledges it has some influence over the Taliban, it says it has no control over the movement,” added WSJ.
The Taliban opened a political office in Qatar in June 2013 as part of a short-lived U.S.-brokered effort to launch peace negotiations.