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Afghanistan: Ghani Optimistic About New Taliban Peace Talks

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By Sayed Sharif Amiry

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani expressed unprecedented hope in the prospects of a negotiated peace with the Taliban on Saturday, calling the conditions for peace talks better than they ever have been, and asserting confidently, "we are on the right track."

President Ghani spoke at a press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Kabul. His comments come just days after Pakistani officials leaked news that senior Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, had agreed to meet with Afghan government officials in the coming weeks to discuss potential reconciliation.

"In the past 36 years the grounds for peace have never been better than they are today," Ghani said on Saturday. "Our approach is effective and we are hopeful in this process." he added.

Judging from the president's comments, it would appear that the peace process has been, behind the scenes, a major focus of the Ghani administration in recent months. "The decisive response is very dangerous in this process; I have reviewed more than 100 peace agreements, and I wrote an article about it," Ghani said. "The questions are being investigated and we are on the right track and we cannot issue statement prematurely."

Failed attempts at peace talks with the Taliban were a hallmark of the final years of former president Hamid Karzai's term in office. Despite many attempts by Kabul and the United States, it wasn't until this year, with the NATO coalition's combat mission over and new interest from countries like China in advancing the peace process, that real promise in the process appeared.

A key aspect to the improved chances of a peace deal with insurgents has been the improvement in relations between Kabul and Islamabad. Pakistan's involvement in the peace process is essential, and it was Pakistani military leaders who reached out to the Taliban in recent weeks to deliver the Afghan government's messages expressing the desire to negotiate.

Meanwhile, figures like Ahmad Zia Massoud, Ghani's Special Advisor for Reform and Good Governance, have voiced confidence that peace is on the horizon. "These days there is news about the peace talks and Inshallah peace will come and the Taliban forces will negotiate with the government," Massoud said.

Some of the top priorities for negotiators will be settling on terms for a ceasefire. In addition, many in Afghanistan have emphasized the importance of not conceding any of the gains in women's rights and human rights that have been made over the past decade.

"The Taliban will not have any special demands and both sides should show flexibility so Afghanistan can reach peace and in this way there is a lot of hope," said Sayed Akbar Agha, the former leader of Jaish-ul-Muslimeen.

President Ghani has recently visited Pakistan and met with top leaders to begin the early stages of communication with the Taliban. Sources inside the Afghan government have claimed that Pakistan has warned the Afghan Taliban that if they do not join the peace process then they will be considered enemies of the Pakistani state.

[Source: TOLONews]

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