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HPC Welcomes Trump’s Policy U-turn On Direct Talks With Taliban

Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) on Monday welcomed the news that US President Donald Trump directed top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban and said any move for peace was a good move.

This rare shift in US policy could hopefully bring an end to the 17 year old war in the country.

“We welcome any move which is in cooperation with the peace process efforts and which could speed up the process of peace talks under the leadership of the Afghans inside and outside the country,” said HPC spokesman Sayed Ehsan Tahiri.

The Taliban have long said they will only discuss peace with the US. But the US has remained adamant that talks must be conducted with the Afghan government.

This comes a day after Afghanistan’s capital Kabul suffered a suicide bombing that killed seven people.

New York Times reported that the shift to prioritize initial US talks with the Taliban over what has proved a futile "Afghan-led, Afghan-owned" process stems from a realization by both Afghan and American officials that Trump's new Afghanistan strategy is not making a fundamental difference in rolling back Taliban gains.

US officials said these talks will start without any preconditions and that the future of US and NATO forces will be discussed.

The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan also welcomed the move.

“Such an important and welcome move,” UK ambassador to Afghanistan Nicolas Kay tweeted.

The apparent strategy shift, which was confirmed by several senior American and Afghan officials, is intended to bring the two positions closer and lead to broader, formal negotiations to end the long war.

According to the New York Times report, the government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, and the Taliban 59. The remaining 119 districts are contested, according the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which was created by Congress to monitor progress in the country.

Taliban called for direct talks with US

On February 27, the Taliban called for direct talks with the US to find a “peaceful solution” to the conflict in Afghanistan, after months of escalating attacks.

In a statement posted online following the call for direct talks, the Taliban said it “calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary.”

The Taliban, which views the Afghan government as illegitimate, has long said that the militant group would only negotiate with the US. The US has generally insisted that the Afghan government must be involved.

Trump ruled out direct talks

In January, Trump ruled out holding talks with the Taliban, following a spate of deadly bombings by the militants in Kabul and other major Afghan towns which killed and wounded hundreds of Afghan civilians and military personnel.

The attacks included an assault on the capital's luxury Intercontinental Hotel, an ambulance bomb in a crowded street and a raid on a military compound, that killed more than 130 people.

“I don’t see any talking taking place,” Trump said.

“I don’t think we’re prepared to talk right now. It’s a whole different fight over there. They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right,” he said.

Conflicting messages on talks

But the Trump administration sent out conflicting messages on talks with the Taliban. In September 2017, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis underscored that the point of expanding military involvement in Afghanistan was to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table.

“I want to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement,” Mattis said.

But several months later, following a spate of coordinated attacks by the Taliban in Kabul, which left over 100 people dead, Trump said the US had no interest in talking to the Taliban. “So there’s no talking to the Taliban. We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish,” Trump said.

But last week during a surprise visit to Afghanistan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised that the US would support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to restart peace talks with the Taliban, following a successful simultaneous ceasefire the previous month.

“An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo said.

“Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s … deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy,” he added.

In recent weeks US officials have flown to Afghanistan and Pakistan where they reportedly tried to lay the groundwork for these talks and assure the Afghans that they are only meant to be a precursor to broader talks.

Unilateral Ceasefire

As part of his good-will gesture for peace, on June 7, Ghani announced a ceasefire with the Taliban after 2,000 religious scholar met in Kabul and issued a fatwa against the ongoing war in the country.

“With the ceasefire announcement, we emphasize the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict,” Ghani said in a video message posted to the Presidential Palace’s Facebook page.

“This ceasefire is an opportunity for the Taliban to realize that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause," Ghani said.

Taliban Responded

The Taliban on June 9 issued a statement saying it had ordered its fighters not to clash with Afghan security forces for the first three days of Eid.

In the statement sent to the media, the Taliban said its fighters would not launch attacks against Afghan security forces but that they would defend themselves if necessary.

The move by both sides was widely welcomed – even by NATO, European Union, and UN officials among others.

A successful three-day ceasefire transpired over Eid, but immediately after the truce was up on the Taliban’s part, the insurgent group launched widespread attack across the country.

Pakistan’s Afghan Policy

Afghan officials have meanwhile continued to say that to end the war in the country, it is necessary to convince Pakistan to endorse peace and security in Afghanistan by ending its military and financial support to the Taliban leadership, something Pakistan has always denied.

US officials have also repeatedly called on Pakistan to do more in terms of fighting the Taliban.

In his first tweet of 2018, Trump said on January 1 that the United States has “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, “and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" he added.

However, Pakistan continues to reject the claims and insist they are not harboring or funding the Taliban.  

HPC Welcomes Trump’s Policy U-turn On Direct Talks With Taliban

The High Peace Council said it welcomes any move than can help break the peace talks stalemate.

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Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) on Monday welcomed the news that US President Donald Trump directed top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban and said any move for peace was a good move.

This rare shift in US policy could hopefully bring an end to the 17 year old war in the country.

“We welcome any move which is in cooperation with the peace process efforts and which could speed up the process of peace talks under the leadership of the Afghans inside and outside the country,” said HPC spokesman Sayed Ehsan Tahiri.

The Taliban have long said they will only discuss peace with the US. But the US has remained adamant that talks must be conducted with the Afghan government.

This comes a day after Afghanistan’s capital Kabul suffered a suicide bombing that killed seven people.

New York Times reported that the shift to prioritize initial US talks with the Taliban over what has proved a futile "Afghan-led, Afghan-owned" process stems from a realization by both Afghan and American officials that Trump's new Afghanistan strategy is not making a fundamental difference in rolling back Taliban gains.

US officials said these talks will start without any preconditions and that the future of US and NATO forces will be discussed.

The UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan also welcomed the move.

“Such an important and welcome move,” UK ambassador to Afghanistan Nicolas Kay tweeted.

The apparent strategy shift, which was confirmed by several senior American and Afghan officials, is intended to bring the two positions closer and lead to broader, formal negotiations to end the long war.

According to the New York Times report, the government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, and the Taliban 59. The remaining 119 districts are contested, according the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which was created by Congress to monitor progress in the country.

Taliban called for direct talks with US

On February 27, the Taliban called for direct talks with the US to find a “peaceful solution” to the conflict in Afghanistan, after months of escalating attacks.

In a statement posted online following the call for direct talks, the Taliban said it “calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary.”

The Taliban, which views the Afghan government as illegitimate, has long said that the militant group would only negotiate with the US. The US has generally insisted that the Afghan government must be involved.

Trump ruled out direct talks

In January, Trump ruled out holding talks with the Taliban, following a spate of deadly bombings by the militants in Kabul and other major Afghan towns which killed and wounded hundreds of Afghan civilians and military personnel.

The attacks included an assault on the capital's luxury Intercontinental Hotel, an ambulance bomb in a crowded street and a raid on a military compound, that killed more than 130 people.

“I don’t see any talking taking place,” Trump said.

“I don’t think we’re prepared to talk right now. It’s a whole different fight over there. They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right,” he said.

Conflicting messages on talks

But the Trump administration sent out conflicting messages on talks with the Taliban. In September 2017, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis underscored that the point of expanding military involvement in Afghanistan was to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table.

“I want to reinforce to the Taliban that the only path to peace and political legitimacy for them is through a negotiated settlement,” Mattis said.

But several months later, following a spate of coordinated attacks by the Taliban in Kabul, which left over 100 people dead, Trump said the US had no interest in talking to the Taliban. “So there’s no talking to the Taliban. We don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We’re going to finish what we have to finish,” Trump said.

But last week during a surprise visit to Afghanistan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised that the US would support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to restart peace talks with the Taliban, following a successful simultaneous ceasefire the previous month.

“An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo said.

“Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s … deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy,” he added.

In recent weeks US officials have flown to Afghanistan and Pakistan where they reportedly tried to lay the groundwork for these talks and assure the Afghans that they are only meant to be a precursor to broader talks.

Unilateral Ceasefire

As part of his good-will gesture for peace, on June 7, Ghani announced a ceasefire with the Taliban after 2,000 religious scholar met in Kabul and issued a fatwa against the ongoing war in the country.

“With the ceasefire announcement, we emphasize the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict,” Ghani said in a video message posted to the Presidential Palace’s Facebook page.

“This ceasefire is an opportunity for the Taliban to realize that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause," Ghani said.

Taliban Responded

The Taliban on June 9 issued a statement saying it had ordered its fighters not to clash with Afghan security forces for the first three days of Eid.

In the statement sent to the media, the Taliban said its fighters would not launch attacks against Afghan security forces but that they would defend themselves if necessary.

The move by both sides was widely welcomed – even by NATO, European Union, and UN officials among others.

A successful three-day ceasefire transpired over Eid, but immediately after the truce was up on the Taliban’s part, the insurgent group launched widespread attack across the country.

Pakistan’s Afghan Policy

Afghan officials have meanwhile continued to say that to end the war in the country, it is necessary to convince Pakistan to endorse peace and security in Afghanistan by ending its military and financial support to the Taliban leadership, something Pakistan has always denied.

US officials have also repeatedly called on Pakistan to do more in terms of fighting the Taliban.

In his first tweet of 2018, Trump said on January 1 that the United States has “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, “and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" he added.

However, Pakistan continues to reject the claims and insist they are not harboring or funding the Taliban.  

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