Top of­fi­cial: Tal­iban should have role in peace talks

16 years of war have dev­as­tated Afghanistan

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY CARLO MUNOZ

The Tal­iban, the ter­ror group who have been battling the U.S. and NATO coali­tion in the coun­try for the last 16 years, should have a seat at the ta­ble in peace talks geared to­ward end­ing the long­est armed con­flict in U.S. his­tory, a top Afghan leader said Tues­day.

In­clud­ing the Is­lamist in­sur­gency in any bi­lat­eral or mul­ti­lat­eral peace talks will be in­te­gral in mov­ing the coun­try past the war and con­flict that have de­fined Afghanistan over the last sev­eral decades and al­low the coun­try to ben­e­fit from “the div­i­dends of peace,” Afghan Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah said Tues­day.

In a speech at the Washington-based Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Mr. Ab­dul­lah said the Kabul

“I said I will not ex­plain. It is a per­sonal and of­fi­cial in­sult. It angers me when you are a for­eigner [and] you do not know what ex­actly is hap­pen­ing in this coun­try. You don’t even in­ves­ti­gate.”

— Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, speak­ing to re­porters af­ter Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau re­vealed he had raised con­cerns about hu­man rights, ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and the rule of law in Mr. Duterte’s harsh crack­down on drug traf­fick­ers in their bi­lat­eral meet­ing ahead of a re­gional sum­mit in Manila this week

gov­ern­ment has al­ready taken steps to fold in sev­eral of Afghanistan’s war­ring fac­tions into the po­lit­i­cal process.

Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar, head of the Afghan ter­ror group Hezb-i-Is­lami, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion was pre­par­ing to take part in next year’s round of dis­trict and pro­vin­cial elec­tions across Afghanistan.

A feared for­mer mu­ja­hedeen com­man­der dur­ing Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Mr. Hek­mat­yar and his fol­low­ers were re­spon­si­ble for nu­mer­ous sui­cide at­tacks and bomb­ings against Afghan and al­lied forces. His fight­ers also planned and ex­e­cuted so-called “green on blue” at­tacks, where they posed as Afghan sol­diers and opened fire on their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts.

Hezb-i-Is­lami’s will­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in next year’s elec­tions is a clear sign that even some of Afghanistan’s most hard­ened ter­ror groups could be will­ing to come to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble, Mr. Ab­dul­lah said.

“Is it not bet­ter to have th­ese [po­lit­i­cal] de­bates with th­ese groups, than to have those groups plan­ning at­tacks?” he asked the au­di­ence Tues­day. That sen­ti­ment seems to be re­flected in the minds of Afghans, ac­cord­ing to a new coun­try­wide poll re­leased Tues­day.

The an­nual sur­vey by the San Fran­cisco-based Asia Foun­da­tion, re­leased in Kabul, found that 32.8 per­cent of Afghans be­lieve their coun­try is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, up from 29.3 per­cent in 2016, The Associated Press re­ports.

An­other 61.2 per­cent said the coun­try is head­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion, down from a record high of 65.9 per­cent in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the fig­ures com­piled by the Asia Foun­da­tion.

But the Tal­iban re­mains a for­mi­da­ble fight­ing force and a grow­ing chal­lenge to the sta­bil­ity of the Kabul gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani.

The Agence France-Presse news ser­vice re­ported Tues­day that dozens of Afghan po­lice of­fi­cers and sol­diers had been killed in a wave of Tal­iban at­tacks on check­points Mon­day in the south­ern prov­ince of Kan­da­har and the western prov­ince of Farah, hours af­ter a sui­cide at­tacker rammed an ex­plo­sives-laden ve­hi­cle into a U.S. mil­i­tary con­voy and wounded four sol­diers.

Afghan of­fi­cials said that 45 mil­i­tants were killed in the clashes.

The Trump White House has qui­etly sig­naled it could ac­cept a ne­go­ti­ated peace pact in Afghanistan that in­cluded the Tal­iban, though not Is­lamic State, which is in­creas­ingly ac­tive in the coun­try.

Mr. Trump al­luded to a po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal role in a post­war Afghanistan for the Tal­iban dur­ing an Au­gust prime-time ad­dress to the na­tion un­veil­ing his new strat­egy for the re­gion. Days later, Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son fol­lowed up on Mr. Trump’s as­ser­tion, say­ing the White House is fully pre­pared to sup­port Tal­iban peace talks.

But any out­reach in Washington and Kabul to Tal­iban fac­tions open to peace talks has been over­shad­owed by Is­lamic State’s in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent pres­ence in the coun­try.

In the wake of the emer­gence of Is­lamic State’s Afghan cell, some in Afghanistan “see the Tal­iban as the lesser evil,” Mr. Ab­dul­lah said, lead­ing to fears that a deal with the Tal­iban will not bring an end to the vi­o­lence.

Mr. Ab­dul­lah noted that de­spite the grow­ing ac­tiv­ity of groups such as Is­lamic State and the Pak­istani-based Haqqani Net­work, the Tal­iban re­mains the ji­hadi or­ga­ni­za­tion in his coun­try.

“The um­brella is the Tal­iban, [no one] can op­er­ate with­out their sup­port,” Mr. Ab­dul­lah said, not­ing that if the Tal­iban is will­ing to go to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble, most of the Afghan ji­hadi groups would fol­low suit.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Is it not bet­ter to have th­ese [po­lit­i­cal] de­bates with th­ese groups than to have those groups plan­ning at­tacks?” asks Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, a top Afghan leader.

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