Ghani says Taliban violence poses ‘serious challenges’ to Afghan peace talks

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul on March 1, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 July 2020

Ghani says Taliban violence poses ‘serious challenges’ to Afghan peace talks

  • Afghan authorities and the Taliban are preparing to engage in talks to end the nearly two-decade-old war
  • A spike in attacks across Afghanistan has been observed in the past few weeks

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned on Monday that Taliban violence is threatening the country’s peace process, as he briefed the international community on Kabul’s preparations for peace talks with the militant group.

Afghan authorities and the Taliban are preparing to engage in negotiations aimed at ending the nearly two-decade-old war in the impoverished country.

But violence, which had briefly reduced after a surprise cease-fire offer by the Taliban in May, has again spiked with officials blaming the insurgents for killing hundreds of security personnel and civilians in recent weeks.

Ghani on Monday hosted the first of three online conferences aimed at briefing the global community on the expected peace talks.

“If the Taliban continue fighting, the Afghan peace process will face serious challenges,” he told online attendees from several nations.

“Unfortunately, the current level of violence is higher compared to last year,” Ghani said, according to a statement issued by his office.

Ghani is hosting two other video conferences later this week.

The United States and Russia along with some international organizations such as the United Nations are joining the video conferences, officials said.

Other countries participating include Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Egypt and Qatar.

Earlier Monday, just hours ahead of the first online meeting, Ghani’s spokesman also slammed the Taliban for an uptick in violence.

“There is no obstacle on our side for the peace process, but we see that the Taliban are not serious,” Sediq Sediqqi told reporters.

“The government of Afghanistan released a large number of Taliban in order to reduce violence in the country, but the violence has not decreased.”

Afghan authorities have released more than 4,000 Taliban prisoners out of 5,000 demanded by the insurgents in a deal with Washington signed in February.

That deal paves the way for withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan by the middle of next year.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for many attacks, but acknowledge that their fighters were targeting Afghan security forces in rural areas.

The date for direct peace talks between the Taliban and government is still not fixed.


Kabul assembly to decide fate of last Taliban inmates

Updated 07 August 2020

Kabul assembly to decide fate of last Taliban inmates

  • The 400 inmates still in government custody have been at the center of a dispute that is delaying peace
  • A prisoner swap between the Taliban and Kabul was a major part of the February agreement signed by the US and the militants in Qatar

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani on Friday inaugurated a traditional grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, to help decide whether the last 400 Taliban prisoners held by Kabul should be freed as part of a historic peace deal between the US and the militants. 
The 400 inmates still in government custody have been at the center of a dispute that is delaying peace in the war-torn country.
A prisoner swap between the Taliban and Kabul was a major part of the February agreement signed by the US and the militants in Qatar.
The exchange should have taken place in early March and be immediately followed by talks to decide the future of Afghanistan’s political system, including the creation of an interim government.
“Today, we have gathered here to discuss what is our interest in the talks and the ultimate price of peace. Now is the time for making a major decision,” Ghani told the assembly of over 3,200 delegates in Kabul. 
“The Taliban have committed that after the freedom of their 400 prisoners, they will begin official talks with our delegation,” he said. “But at the same time, they have also warned that if the prisoners are not freed, they will not only continue the violence, but also increase it.” 
The Qatar agreement stipulated that the Afghan government would first release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the militants would free about 1,000 national security personnel. Ghani’s government, which was not part of the Qatar accord, initially refused to free the militants. 
However, under pressure from Washington, Kabul has freed more than 4,600 Taliban inmates. But it is refusing to free the remaining 400 who, it said, had been behind major crimes and attacks.   
After Eid Al-Adha prayers last week, Ghani announced he would summon the Loya Jirga, a traditional council to reach consensus among Afghanistan’s rival tribes, factions and ethnic groups.
Delegates are expected to announce their decision in three days. 
As Ghani spoke, a woman delegate stood and voiced her opposition to the release of the remaining Taliban inmates, saying that it would be “national treason.” 
The meeting has been held under tight security and parts of Kabul are under lockdown. 
Many of Afghanistan’s political and tribal leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai, were absent from the assembly.   
Meanwhile, the Taliban accused Ghani of blocking the start of negotiations.  
The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the Kabul assembly was a historic “opportunity for peace” and “must be seized by all sides.”