Afghan president might have just forced Trump to negotiate with the Taliban

Ashraf Ghani offered to recognize the Taliban as legitimate party.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (front C), Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla (L) and head of the Afghan Peace Council Karim Khalili (R) pose with other participants for a group photo after the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on February 28, 2018. CREDIT: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (front C), Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla (L) and head of the Afghan Peace Council Karim Khalili (R) pose with other participants for a group photo after the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on February 28, 2018. CREDIT: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images.

After over 16 years of war with the Taliban, the Afghan government on Wednesday offered to recognize the armed group as a legitimate political party, hoping that, along with other concessions, the recognition will cease the end to hostilities.

“We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement,” said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the opening of the Kabul Process conference.

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Ghani has put his government on the opposite side of the debate from the United States. President Donald Trump is firmly against talks with the Taliban. After a deadly attack in Kabul, he tweeted:

Two days later, as he was meeting with members of the U.N. Security Council at the White House, President Trump vowed to “finish what we have to finish” in Afghanistan, reiterating his lack of interest in negotiating with the Taliban.

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

The Taliban immediately responded via Trump’s favorite social media platform, Twitter:

Even Ghani, earlier this month, had said that the door for peace with the Taliban was “closed” and had condemned the groups violent, “terrorist” tactics, which have devastated Afghan civilians and have totally eroded any sense of security in the country — even in the capitol, which has seen a spate of deadly attacks.

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Ghani’s gambit may or may not pan out, but one thing it will certainly do is put the United States in the awkward position of negotiating with the very group it sought to eradicate when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. The Taliban have indicated that they are willing to speak to the United States, issuing yet another invitation earlier this week.

“The Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on American officials to talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary,” read a statement from the Taliban on Monday, inviting the United States to meet in its office in Doha, Qatar.

The Taliban sees U.S. withdrawal as a precondition to peace talks at time when the United States has ramped-up its airstrikes against the group, which has been gaining ground in Afghanistan in recent years and is active in roughly 70 percent of the country.

Asked about the Taliban’s invitation on Tuesday and, specifically, about President Trump’s “no more talks” statement, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert seemed to walk a fine line, saying the process will have to be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, but that if the Taliban was ready to talk, “certainly the United States Government could have a role in that.”

Nauert did not address Trump’s statement in her answer.

In addition to the offer of recognizing the Taliban as an official political party, Ghani promised new elections that would include the group, a constitutional review, and the release of imprisoned Taliban fighters.

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In exchange, he asked that the Taliban recognize the Afghan government, respect the rule of law and the rights of women.