Ghani Says Peace Talks to Start in 15 Days

While visiting the families of victims of last week’s deadly suicide attack in eastern Khost province, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday discussed peace talks with the Taliban and his outlook on reconciliation with the group that has waged war its fellow countrymen for over a decade.

The suicide bombing in Khost last week left at least 27 innocent civilians dead, including women and children.

“Peace is the desire of all people,” Ghani said, calling the recent talks held between Afghan government and Taliban representatives in Islamabad a great achievement. “We tried for 14 years to get peace negotiations started but we failed.”

The Taliban are Afghans, not foreigners, Ghani told those gathered to here him speak on Thursday. “They should bring us their written concerns because there isn’t any issue in the world that cannot be resolved by dialogue. This issue can’t be concluded with war,” he said.

According to the president, the next round of talks, which are expected to take on more of a negotiating tone, will begin within 15 days, after Eid-al-Fitr. While the last round took place in Islamabad, they next is planned to take place somewhere in China. The government in Beijing has been cited as a crucial source of pressure for getting Pakistan to urge the Taliban toward talks.

The Afghan High Peace Council (HPC), the body formed for the expressed purpose of building bridges of peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban, has said that all arrangements and preparations have been made for the upcoming talks. HPC officials have said that in this next round the Afghan government will ask the Taliban for a ceasefire.

“Efforts have been accelerated for the second round of talks, so that a clear peace agenda is prepared,” HPC member Maulavi Shafiullah Shafi Nuristani said on Thursday. “We are also working to prepare the list of negotiators,” he added.

According to Mohammad Natiqi, who was a member of the government’s peace delegation in Islamabad, efforts have been made to solicit feedback from stakeholders in Afghan society on what priorities should be pursued in the negotiations. “The views of various segments of society that the president has consulted about peace have been gathered in the shape of a book,” Natiqi told TOLOnews. “The recommendations of the government of Afghanistan will be enlisted from the same views in the peace negotiation talks.”

However, the number of government peace negotiators expected to participate in the next round of talks has yet to be finalized. On the other hand, it is rumored that the Taliban will attend the next round of talks with more negotiators than it did the first round.

“The composition of the government peace delegation will also probably change and more negotiators will be included,” Natiqi said. “But the Taliban’s peace delegation will be more; there is a possibility that some more Taliban negotiators from the Qatar office will take part in the talks.” Following the last round of talks, members of the Taliban’s office in Qatar cast doubt on whether the delegation in Islamabad full represented the militant group.

Reportedly, Taliban negotiators are expected to come to the next round of talks with a number of demands, including amendments to the Afghan Constitution, the complete withdraw of foreign forces and the release of Taliban prisoners.

The potential demands of the Taliban, especially regarding amendments to the Constitution, have prompted anxieties among Afghan women’s rights group, in particular. Civil society activists have said that women should be part of the government’s peace delegation.

“The presence of women in the structure of the peace delegation must be visible,” women’s rights activist Humaira Qaderi said on Thursday. “Women should be provided the opportunity to talk about their rights and the country’s legal and economic situation.”

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