A top United Nations official on Thursday encouraged Kabul to put “anything” the Taliban wants on the table, including the withdrawal of U.S.-NATO coalition troops, to convince the jihadists to embrace Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of a ceasefire and official recognition as a political group.
Referring to Ghani’s proposal during an event hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), Steve Brooking, the director of peace and reconciliation at U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), declared:
I do think that President’s Ghani open offer to the Taliban of anything you want to be can be on the table of [peace] talks including the question of the future presence of foreign troops. [sic] I think it was a very generous open and genuine offer and so I think that should go someway of providing an element of reassurance to the Taliban that anything they want to discuss is up for discussion. I think that is very positive.
The Taliban has long maintained that U.S.-NATO coalition troops must leave Afghanistan before it engages in peace negotiations.
Rahmatullah Amiri, a Taliban researcher at the Kabul-based Liaison Office (TLO) who participated in the Afghan peace panel discussion hosted by USIP via Skype, noted that although the Taliban wants the political recognition offered by Ghani, it will not relent on its precondition of the complete withdrawal of foreign troops.
Despite Ghani’s peace offer, made in February, the Taliban has continued to carry out attacks, becoming the deadliest Islamic terrorist group so far during the ongoing holiest month for Muslims, Ramadan, which started on May 17.
The Taliban until now has ignored repeated U.S.-backed calls for a Ramadan ceasefire, including one made by Ghani on Thursday. Leaders from the terrorist group are reportedly discussing whether or not to embrace the truce.
During the USIP event, Lisa Curtis, a deputy assistant to the U.S. President and senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council (NSC), noted that the Trump administration is pushing for reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban.
Acknowledging that similar efforts have failed in the past, Curtis said, the Trump administration is “working closely with the Afghan government to ensure that there are ways for Taliban fighters who are ready to stop fighting to return to civil society.”
“We also recognize that in addition to supporting grassroots and local efforts for peace that ultimately the Afghan government and the Taliban must come to a peace agreement,” she also said, adding, “The U.S. continues to work with international partners to explore all possible avenues to help get such a dialogue off the ground.”
U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently stressed that “reconciliation” is the main goal of President Donald Trump’s strategy to end the nearly 17-year-old Afghan war.
However, Amiri stressed that the Taliban is not interested in reconciliation, noting that the jihadist group is primarily focused on attaining political power and ensuring the U.S.-NATO coalition forces withdraw from the country.
Some experts at the USIP panel discussion – namely Laurel Miller from the RAND Corporation, who served the U.S. State Department acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan until 2017 – criticized the Trump administration for not making clear what it is willing to put on the table to convince the Taliban to come to the peace talks table.
She suggested that the U.S. should at least offer a phased withdrawal of troops, a move that would mirror the desires of the war-weary American public.
Nevertheless, Curtis from the White House NSC declared on Thursday:
No one believes that there’s a military solution to this [Afghan] conflict, but we do acknowledge that military force plays a role in helping to set conditions for an ultimate peace settlement and we also believe that the Taliban will have to accept that they cannot achieve their own objectives on the battlefield.
In 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban regime in response to the group helping al-Qaeda stage the 9/11 attacks on the American homeland.
Fast forward nearly 17 years later, the U.S. is now backing Kabul’s offer to recognize the Taliban as a political power officially.