Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s president. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Afghan President Offers Taliban Political Recognition, Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani presented his most comprehensive peace plan to the Taliban in a bid to bring them to the negotiating table and end the nation’s near 17-year war, a move the U.S. signaled it supports.

Ghani said he would recognize the Taliban as a political group and would initiate talks if they agreed to a cease-fire, he told delegates at a peace conference in the capital, Kabul, on Wednesday. He also suggested a constitutional review as a confidence-building measure for both sides. Ghani said he would help release Taliban prisoners, remove international sanctions on the group and assist them with passports and visas.

His administration will provide “security for all Afghans including those who make peace and join the government,” Ghani said.

Ghani’s outreach to the Taliban comes after the group recently called on the U.S. to enter peace talks. Earlier this month, Kabul rejected the surprise overture, insisting the insurgents who control or contest nearly half the country needs to cease fighting first and speak to the Afghan government.

President Donald Trump had also ruled out direct talks with the Taliban after the group’s bloody attacks in January killed and wounded hundreds, but the U.S. now appears to back Ghani’s efforts.

U.S. Backing

“We join the Afghan Government and the international community in calling on the Taliban to join peace talks with the Government of #Afghanistan, and to participate in the country’s political system,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “The Taliban have a responsibility to end their campaign of violence and demonstrate that they are ready to discuss peace with the elected government of #Afghanistan.”

However, the Taliban has always sought constitutional amendments and the withdrawal of foreign forces as pre-conditions for peace talks.

The Afghan president also said he wanted “fresh” relations with neighboring Pakistan. Islamabad has been accused of backing the Taliban, which it originally helped to power in the mid-1990s. The two-nations have in the past year been engaged in an increasingly bitter war of words and Pakistan is fencing their porous and disputed border.

“We will be ready to start talks with Pakistan and forget the past,” said Ghani.

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