Members of the Taliban in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. File Photo: Reuters

The Afghan government has offered to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban after years of escalating violence and rising civilian casualties.

The peace plan was put forward on Wednesday at the second Kabul Process, a conference attended by 25 countries and international organizations. It contains a list of offers and agreements that meet the Taliban’s key demands over the years.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appealed for a ceasefire after presenting the detailed proposal, which traces the war through nearly two decades that have seen thousands of civilian casualties. He proposed talks to try to end the long-standing conflict.

“I call on Taliban and their leadership – the decision is in your hands. Accept a dignified [end to fighting] and come together to safeguard this country,” Ghani said.

The written peace offer, titled ‘Offering Peace: Framing the Kabul Conference’, lays out a seven-point proposal to pave the way for fruitful negotiations. It has been made “without preconditions” to insurgents who are willing to renounce violence and includes political recognition, the release of prisoners, as well as passports to members of the Taliban and visas for their families.

The deal also offers Taliban an office in Kabul and efforts to remove sanctions imposed on their leaders.

“The Taliban have shown awareness of contextual shifts and seem to be engaged in a debate on the implications of acts of violence for their future,” Ghani said, adding that the Afghan government believes in the right to live in peace and dignity of all Afghans, including those Taliban willing to denounce violence. “To the Taliban fighters who quit the violence, a peaceful and respectful life will be offered,” he promised.

The Taliban has issued a statement, but remains non-committal on the offer so far. Sources have told Asia Times that they will evaluate the offer before taking a final call.

Similar deal struck with Hizbe-Islami insurgents

Participants at the Kabul Process urged the Taliban to come forward and engage the National Unity Government in a political process, noting the success of a similar deal struck two years ago by the Afghan government with Hizbe-Islami, a former insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

A report by the Afghan Analyst Network (AAN) titled ‘Who shall cease the fire first? Afghanistan’s peace offer to the Taliban’ hails Ghani’s peace proposals as “the most far-reaching move in this field of any Afghan government since 2001”. However, the report by Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica notes that the proposal is “not a peace plan yet”, as that can only materialize through negotiations with the Taliban.

AAN analysts also said talk of a ceasefire was the most striking feature of the peace proposals. “It is left open as to whether Ghani expects the Taliban to make the first step, or whether Kabul would do so at some point in time,” their report observed. However, Rutting and Bjelica said that Kabul could actually offer such a unilateral step first. “This could give it the moral high ground,” they said.

Interestingly, the proposal comes just days after the Taliban appealed to the American people and political representatives, in an open letter, to find a “peaceful resolution to the Afghan issue”.

The United States Army, along with NATO forces, has intensified its offensive against Taliban targets. Resolute Support, a NATO-led initiative to train, advise and assist the mission, has backed Afghan security forces conducting operations around the country against insurgent groups including Taliban and the newly established Islamic State chapter in the region.

“There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group,” General John Nicholson, commander of US Forces-Afghanistan said to the media last month in Kabul. “We continue to strike them wherever we find them. We continue to hunt them across the country,” he had assured.

Captain Tom Gresback, public affairs director at Resolute Support HQ in Kabul, told Asia Times that they intend to continue to exert military pressure to the point where their opponents realize they need to engage in talks about peace and reconciliation.

With a new deal on the table, the Afghan government and international stakeholders are hoping for negotiations rather than continued fighting.

‘Ceasefire when they come to the table’

“We have opened the door for peace with the offer of a comprehensive and reasonable plan to work things out. This is an opportunity for the Taliban to talk to us,” Javid Faisal, spokesperson for Afghan chief executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah, told Asia Times. He said Afghan forces would observe a ceasefire when the Taliban come to the table for talks. “But until then, if they attack our people on a daily bases, we have a responsibility to protect our citizens against them. That’s our job.”

Gresback, meanwhile, admitted that the war could not be won by military means alone. “Diplomatic pressure on external enablers and social pressure from credible elections this year will all work together so that the Taliban comes to the realization that their only hope for a future in this country is to reconcile,” he explained.

The deal, however, does not make a clear mention of one of Taliban’s most prominent demands — the withdrawal of US forces.

“A large number of foreign troops have already left and those here are here to help improve the capacity of the Afghan army,” Faisal said. “Even if there was no war, or Taliban insurgency, or a single shot fired, we would still need to train our troops to protect our sovereignty.”

The Taliban should not blame this on the US. “This peace deal is a wholly Afghan-led process,” he assured.

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