The Taliban has called for direct talks with the United States to find a “peaceful solution” to the conflict in Afghanistan, in an apparent policy reversal after months of escalating Taliban attacks and increased U.S. airstrikes.
Civilian casualties surged in recent months as the Taliban and Islamic State unleashed a wave of bloodshed in urban areas and on security forces in response to a new open-ended military policy by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The call for talks comes on the eve of the second round of a regional peace conference in Kabul, where representatives from 25 countries will discuss counter-terrorism and conflict resolution strategies.
In a statement posted late Monday, the Taliban said it “calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate [in Qatar] regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary,” using its official name.
The statement said “it would help in finding a solution if America accepts the legitimate demands of the Afghan people,” Tolo news reported.
The statement said the Taliban in an open letter to the American people and the U.S. Congress published earlier February said that “war is not our choice, rather it has been imposed upon us. For ending the occupation, we want a peaceful resolution to the Afghan issue,” and added that “it must now be established by America and her allies that the Afghan issue cannot be solved militarily.”
“America must henceforth focus on a peaceful strategy for Afghanistan instead of war. Military strategies which have repeatedly been tested in Afghanistan over the past seventeen years will only intensify and prolong the war. And this is not in the interest of anyone.”
The apparent openness to negotiations is unusual for the militant group, which has repeatedly stated that it will not enter talks until foreign troops leave the country.
The Taliban statement comes just days after the Afghan government began discussions with Qatar to close the Taliban’s Doha office after seven years. Mohammad Hanif Atmar, National Security Advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, said last week it has had “no positive consequence in terms of facilitating the peace talks.”
Last week, at a National Consultative Peace Conference with tribal and jihadi elders, Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, a Ghani advisor and head secretary of the High Peace Council said the Taliban should talk to Afghans to end the war.
“The Taliban should have approached Afghans to end current violence in Afghanistan instead of sending letters to the U.S.,” Khpalwak said.
Increased US airstrikes
There has been no response to the Taliban offer from U.S. officials, who have previously insisted that talks must include the Afghan government.
In January, Trump ruled out holding talks with the Taliban, after a spate of assaults in Kabul.
The attacks included an assault on the capital’s luxury Intercontinental Hotel, an ambulance bomb in a crowded street and a raid on a military compound, that killed more than 130 people.
Unveiling his new Afghan strategy last August, Trump said the U.S. presence in Afghanistan would remain open-ended, and strikes against Taliban strongholds were stepped up. The new strategy includes cutting off the Taliban’s drug revenue by targeting production facilities. The U.S. used F-22 Raptor stealth fighters in Afghanistan for the first time in November when USFOR-A conducted a series of strikes on poppy production facilities in Helmand province.
As violence intensifies nationwide, the Afghan capital will host the Kabul Process Wednesday, focusing on rebooting peace talks and uniting regional countries in the fight against terrorism.
“At the Kabul conference, we will present a comprehensive peace plan for Taliban and Pakistan,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday.
The conference follows an earlier meeting held in June last year.
With reporting from AFP