KABUL (Reuters) - The head of Afghanistan’s power-sharing government lent his support on Monday to a tentative push to begin peace talks with Taliban insurgents, an effort he said “will begin in coming days”.
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s backing of the nascent process to negotiate an end to the 13-year-old insurgency is crucial because many of his supporters represent the vehement anti-Taliban wing that fought against the hardline Islamists when they held power until 2001.
Last week, a Pakistani army delegation brought word to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Taliban leaders had signaled they are willing to open talks, according to senior Pakistani and Afghan officials. The demands of the insurgents are not yet clear.
Previous attempts to open talks have been fruitless, and no date or firm plan for talks has been set in the most recent effort. Ghani himself has made only oblique references in public statements to the process.
However, Abdullah’s office late on Monday confirmed the effort, though it gave no details.
“The process on peace negotiation will begin in coming days. I hope we achieve lasting peace which is our nation’s desire,” the statement quoted Abdullah as saying.
It went on to say that achievements since the fall of the Taliban in the 2001 U.S.-backed intervention would not be given up in exchange for peace.
“I want to assure my people that the accomplishments are protected and there will be no compromise,” Abdullah said.
He did not elaborate, but civil rights advocates fear that the Taliban would demand a rollback of women’s rights and democratic elections in favor a re-introduction of the strict interpretation of Islamic law they enforced during their five-year rule.
Ghani - who formed a power-sharing government with Abdullah last year after a bitterly disputed election - has been pushing hard for a peace process, lobbying regional players Pakistan, China and other countries to help persuade the Taliban leadership to open negotiations.