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Taliban, Government Hint At Afghan Peace Talks

Former Taliban members hold national flags as they surrender their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on August 23.
Former Taliban members hold national flags as they surrender their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on August 23.

As Afghans celebrate the Muslim holy festival of Eid al-Adha, they are cautiously witnessing some moves toward peace in their country, which has suffered through wars and violence for nearly four decades.

Amid reports that the Afghan government and its main insurgent enemy, the Taliban, are now in regular contact, there are signs that some of the hard-line movement’s members are yearning to return to a more peaceful life.

“The Taliban brothers should join peace. This will protect their respect, integrity, and freedom,” Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad, a senior member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, told Radio Free Afghanistan on August 31. “The people and government are eager to welcome them, and this Eid we are keen on receiving a positive response to our message from them.”

The Taliban, however, had already articulated a response. While repeating the usual insurgent claims that peace in Afghanistan cannot materialize in the presence of international “occupation” forces, the fugitive Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhunzada hinted at important developments in his Eid al-Adha message.

“[A] peaceful solution of the Afghan issue is the main pillar of the policy of the Islamic Emirate,” he said on August 30, referring to the Taliban by their formal name. “To this end, the political office has been tasked to find a peaceful solution.”

The assertion backs a recent report claiming the Taliban regularly talk with Afghan officials. The Associated Press reported on August 29 that Afghan intelligence chief Masoom Stanikzai talks with Taliban leader Abbas Stanikzai, head of the Taliban political office in Qatar, nearly every day. The two men are not related despite sharing a last name.

While Afghan officials denied the report, it was based on documents showing that the Afghan spy chief is in regular communication with the Taliban and that the insurgents have even made their demands clear, which even include holding elections after a ceasefire.

Lawmaker Salih Mohammad Salih, a member of Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of the Afghan Parliament, said the Taliban’s peace overtures and indications of moderation such as calling on businesses to invest in regions they control suggest they are gearing up to join peace talks.

“It will be better for the Taliban to choose the path of peace talks instead of war. It will herald a bright future for Afghans,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The government also needs to get its act together for peace.”

The Taliban might have more incentives to join talks now after it emerged that an amnesty scheme in their former stronghold in southern Afghanistan is luring leaders and foot soldiers from their hideouts in neighboring Pakistan.

Mullah Abdul Rauf, who claims to be part of the Taliban’s finance commission, was among some 15 prominent Taliban officials returning to the southern Afghan province of Kandahar under an amnesty deal devised by the region’s powerful security commander General Abdul Raziq.

“The promises of peace and security guarantees prompted me to return to Kandahar,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan in Kandahar’s rural district of Panjwaee on August 29. “Raziq’s open arms and guarantees to welcome all Taliban [willing to return to live peacefully] have encouraged many to return to this district.”

Academic Gul Rahman Qazi has met with Taliban representatives in recent years. He told Radio Free Afghanistan that by abandoning their maximalist positions, the Afghan government and the Taliban can find some common ground in negotiating a lasting peace.

Kabul wants the Taliban to renounce violence, surrender their arms, and accept the current Afghan Constitution as the law of the land. The insurgents, however, have insisted on the departure of foreign forces as a pre-condition for talks. Since their emergence in the mid-1990s, the Taliban have advocated and implemented, while in power, a hard-line Islamic political system for Afghanistan.

“Everyone engaged in the war here now realizes it is not the solution, so they are required to show flexibility,” he noted. “A just peace in Afghanistan facilitated by Afghan intermediaries is the ultimate solution.”

Mohammad Sadiq Rashtinai contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.