Speculations of US-Taliban talks rise after Afghan ceasefire gamble

Chances have risen for talks between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a ceasefire and allowed militants to roam into cities of Afghanistan in a gamble to encourage peace talks.

The Taliban, thrown out of power in 2001 by U.S.-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about getting rid of foreign forces.

Diplomats have concluded that Ghani’s offer to hold peace talks has set the stage for U.S. officials to open negotiations with the Taliban.

“Ghani has done his bit, It is now for the U.S. to cut through this blockade,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to make changes in the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a ceasefire that is currently due to end on Wednesday, although Taliban said its ceasefire ended on Sunday.

“As President Ghani emphasised in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. According to him, “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate and participate in these discussions.”

Nolen Johnson, a State Department spokesman, said Ghani had invited the United States to “participate in an Afghan-led peace process,” and there was no substitute to the Taliban connecting with the “sovereign” Kabul government.

A senior U.S. official, before the start of the ceasefire, said, however, there were a number of obstacles that made the prospect of direct talks between the Taliban and US unlikely in the short term. According to him, there was a gap in the amount of knowledge that is available about the Taliban. For instance as to who had the authority to negotiate on their behalf. There is not enough intelligence or resources on this issue, the official said.

The Taliban, in a statement marking the end of their ceasefire on Sunday, said the organisation was unified and called on “the invading American party” to “sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution for the ongoing imbroglio.”

A senior diplomat with knowledge of the negotiations leading to the ceasefire estimated the chances of eventual talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government at “50-50.” While Washington has long resisted direct talks with the Taliban, the official said recent developments indicate “the U.S. now seems less and less averse to it.”

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