Geneva, Switzerland – The Afghan government has formed a 12-member team to hold peace talks with the Taliban, President Ashraf Ghani announced in the Swiss city of Geneva on Wednesday.
“I’m pleased to announce today that after several months of intensive consultation with our citizens across the country, we have formulated a road map for peace negotiations,” he said at the two-day United Nations conference on Afghanistan to renew a process of development and reform.
“The constitutional rights and obligations, of all citizens, especially women, should be ensured,” Ghani said.
The Afghan leader also announced that the negotiating team will be led by presidential chief of staff Salam Rahimi and will include men and women with the “necessary credentials to deal with the key challenges of peace negotiations”.
Ghani said he is hoping for a peace agreement in which the Taliban would be included in a democratic and inclusive society, but added that no organisation that has ties with “terrorist networks” will be allowed to join the political process.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the plan “a courageous peace offer to the Taliban”, adding that it offered “unique opportunities to break the stalemate and move the country forward”.
“I underline forward, not backwards, because this is an unconditional offer for peace talks, but it is not unconditional as a result of peace talks that can be started,” she said.
This week’s summit is billed as a platform for the Afghan government to renew its commitment to reform and discuss aid contributions in its bid to achieve stability and security.
The conference comes at a time when the United States administration is holding direct talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s largest armed group which was toppled following a US-led invasion in 2001.
The Taliban wants the pullout of international forces as a pre-condition for talks.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the war that has dragged on for more than a decade and cost billions of dollars.
Earlier this month, Taliban officials held three days of talks with US special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar, aimed at renewing the peace process.
The Afghan government has not been involved in these talks.
Last week, a five-member Taliban delegation headed to the Russian capital, Moscow, to attend for the first time an international conference to discuss the Afghan peace efforts.
“A second phase (of discussions) should be held among Afghans (themselves) on how to bring about peace and form a government in Afghanistan,” Sohail Shaheen, a Qatar-based spokesperson for the Taliban, told reporters in Moscow.
According to Safiullah Taye, a PhD candidate studying aid allocation and prioritisation in Afghanistan post-2002, “If it is anyone, it will be the US, the international community or the neighbouring countries who the Taliban would want to negotiate with.”
Taye added that the Afghan government “cannot afford to accept” the Taliban’s conditions and therefore if serious talks do take place “it will take longer to have an agreement and then implementation”.
Although the Taliban announced a ceasefire during the Eid holidays in June, the group has so far ignored Ghani’s calls to enter into peace negotiations with the government. The group also rejected a second call to ceasefire in August.