KABUL -- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has dismissed the Taliban’s rejection of his offer of peace talks, suggesting that the militant group can still be persuaded to come to the negotiating table.
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul on July 16, Ghani said the Taliban’s opposition to peace talks was not “a full rejection.”
“It’s like when you ask someone’s hand in marriage and the family of the bride says no several times [before relenting],” said Ghani, referring to a culture in which refusal is seen as a sign of humility.
“In reality, it is likely that we will get a positive answer," Ghani said.
Earlier this month, the Taliban said it would not negotiate with the Kabul government after a first-ever cease-fire between the two sides coinciding with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr raised hopes of jump-starting long-stalled talks.
Ghani declared an end to the truce, but he also called on the Taliban to resume peace negotiations. The extremist group Islamic State (IS) was not included in the cessation of hostilities.
The unilateral government truce lasted from June 12-30. The Taliban adhered to its own June 15-17 cease-fire that prompted jubilant scenes of unarmed Taliban fighters congregating in government-held cities and posing for photos with residents and government officials.
Ghani said in his interview that the Taliban has lost any credibility it might have had among Afghans.
“Afghan clerics don’t want an intensification of the conflict, they want peace – they want real peace. Therefore, if a small group of the Taliban think that they still have a shred of religious credibility, [they’re wrong]. It has ended.”
On July 11, a summit of religious scholars organized by the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation called for a new cease-fire in Afghanistan, a request dismissed out of hand by the Taliban.
“The cease-fire demonstrated that they want to be on the same side of their countrymen,” Ghani added.
According to a report by The New York Times on July 15, the U.S. administration has told top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban -- a move representing a shift in U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
The report said the strategy shift, confirmed by several senior U.S. and Afghan officials, “is intended to bring those two positions closer and lead to broader, formal negotiations to end the long war.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban has expressed willingness to speak directly to the United States, which toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001.
In his interview with RFE/RL, Ghani also reiterated his calls for Pakistan and other neighboring countries to work together to eliminate terrorism and create regional stability.
Afghanistan and the United States accuse neighboring Pakistan of harboring the Afghan Taliban, a claim Islamabad rejects. Iran and Russia have confirmed they have contacts with the Taliban, but insist that they are aimed at ensuring the safety of its citizens in Afghanistan and encouraging the Taliban to join peace talks.
“Our stance is that if the Taliban are independent, they should make decisions independently, but it’s necessary that Pakistan help,” Ghani said.
For years, Kabul and Washington have pressured Islamabad to bring the militants to the negotiating table.
The Taliban’s rejection of Ghani’s offer is a blow to hopes for lasting peace in the war-torn country, where the United Nations said civilian casualties had reached a record high in the first half of 2018.
The insurgent group has demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country as a precondition for talks and maintained that it wants to talk directly with the United States, which toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. The militants consider the Kabul government a “Western puppet.”
The UN has blamed the Taliban for 40 percent of the civilian deaths in the country, while 52 percent of the attacks were attributed to Islamic State militants.
Afghanistan has been hit by a string of deadly suicide attacks since the end of the cease-fire, including a July 16 Taliban attack on a police checkpoint in the eastern Nangarhar Province that killed seven police officers.