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Taliban open to talks with any side for Afghan solution

Taliban open to talks with any side for Afghan solution

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban, apparently shifting its long-held stance, says it will negotiate with any side to find a way to end the US-led 16-year-old war in the country.
The move came days after Mohammed Ismail Khan, a former anti-Taliban leader who served as governor of western Herat and later as a Cabinet minister, urged the group to initiate talks with former guerrilla factions after the militants failed to officially reject President Ashraf Ghani’s peace overture last month.
“As a principle, the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) welcomes all efforts aimed at finding a true solution to the ongoing problems of our country,” a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, wrote in a statement on the group’s website reacting to Ismail Khan’s call.
Last month, the Taliban twice spoke of its desire to hold direct talks with Washington, which it regards as its main adversary because US-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001.
US officials in response told the Taliban to start talks with Ghani’s government, which the Taliban considers a stooge of Washington and with whom it has repeatedly refused to meet.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis, on a visit to Kabul last week, said the Afghan war had no military solution and that some elements within the Taliban were interested in talks with Kabul.
In a move seen as a change from the Taliban’s past policy, Mujahid said the Taliban was open for talks with any side, but it neither mentioned nor excluded the government.
“Since Mr. Ismail Khan -– as the representative of former jihadi leaders –- has sought a response from the Islamic Emirate to their offer of talks and reaching an understanding, the Islamic Emirate wants to make it clear to everyone seeking an end to the ongoing tragedy (invasion of our country) and who do not support the invaders, be they jihadi personalities or otherwise, (that it will) meet with the Political Office to exchange views about ending foreign occupation, establishing an Islamic system and reconciliation.”
In response to the statement, a spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Arab News: “In the past the Taliban used to reject immediately any offer made by our side. The government is waiting to hear the Taliban’s official stance as to whether they reject or accept the government’s proposal.
“The general trend in Afghanistan, in the region and the world, is that they support the government’s stance. The Taliban have no alternative but to accept what the people, the region and the world expect from them, otherwise they will face more isolation.”
Reacting to Mujahid’s comments, Ismail Khan said his offer and the Taliban response was a new development.
Speaking to Arab News by phone from Herat, Ismail Khan said he would discuss the Taliban response with jihadi leaders, including his allies in the Jamiat-e-Islami party, and will issue a reply later.
“Let us ponder on this. We will not discuss this issue further because we do not want the process to face difficulty. We will have a subsequent program on this and will announce it.”
Ismail Khan is a veteran of the war against the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Despite serving as governor in the former government and also as a Cabinet minister, unlike many former guerrilla leaders he has openly remained an opponent of the US military presence in Afghanistan.
Known as the “Lion of Herat” by some for his resistance against the Soviet occupiers, Ismail Khan fought against the Taliban when the latter emerged and advanced on his southwestern fiefdom in the 1990s and later was even imprisoned by the Taliban.
Later, Ismail Khan managed to flee the Taliban jail, having been treated with respect by members of the group in jail too. He was not so deeply involved in the civil war and has remained out of tribal and ethnic tension in recent years in Afghanistan.
Several other guerrilla leaders, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined Ghani’s government last year, have on various occasions urged the Taliban to start peace talks. But the Taliban has never given a positive response to their call.
Giving a positive reply to Ismail Khan’s overture is seen as a unique step by the Taliban.
“I think it (the response) was their (the Taliban’s) evaluation that we raised this call with sincerity to let us honestly save this country,” Khan said when asked how the Taliban happened to hail his call.

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