Engage in direct talks or be used as ‘tool’, Ghani tells Taliban

Kabul: Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani on Monday called on the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the government or be used a “tool” by other countries.

His comments came as the President’s office, citing US special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, said that no agreement was reached with the Taliban on a ceasefire or the withdrawal of foreign troops from the war-ravaged country.

In his address to the nation, Ghani said his government was committed to end the ongoing war and that “no country wants the presence of foreign troops on its soil indefinitely, but currently, Afghanistan needs these forces”, TOLO News reported.

The President said the terror group had two choices at the moment — to either stand with the people of Afghanistan or be used as a tool by other countries. He added that the foreign troops in the country would leave at some point, but that would be done in accordance with an orderly plan.

The US special envoy had on Sunday evening shared with the Afghan government the details of his peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar aimed at ending the 17-year-old conflict, according to Efe news.

“The Taliban have asked for withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but so far (the) Americans (have) reached no agreement with them,” said Khalilzad, according to the President’s office.

It said the US envoy had assured Ghani that any decision regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops would be coordinated and discussed comprehensively with the Afghan government.

Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Sunday to meet Ghani after six days of peace talks with Taliban ended on Saturday.

Before landing in the Afghan capital, the envoy said “significant progress on vital issues” was made and said the meetings in Qatar were “more productive than they have been in the past”.

He said the talks with the Taliban leadership would resume “shortly”.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire,” Khalilzad tweeted.

The President’s office statement on said the envoy had also discussed a ceasefire with the Taliban, but that there had been no progress made yet.

Khalilzad also rejected the “reports and rumours” regarding any agreement with the Taliban during Doha talks on Afghanistan’s future.

“No talks and discussions have been held regarding Afghanistan’s future political structure.”

“The issue of (forming) an interim government is fully wrong, and was never discussed in Doha talks, and this is not in my authority and responsibility. My responsibility is to facilitate an intra-Afghan peace process,” he said, according to the statement.

“In talks with the Taliban, the US has urged that intra-Afghan talks are the only way to reach a lasting peace in Afghanistan,” the statement said, adding that President Ghani had thanked Khalilzad for sharing the details of the talks and “appreciated the US efforts toward facilitating intra-Afghan talks”.

The Taliban has refused to hold negotiations with the Afghan government directly.