Taliban stops short of rejecting Afghan president's peace plan

Taliban stops short of rejecting Afghan president's peace plan

Kabul:The Taliban's muted response to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's offer of peace talks last month reflects an internal debate over the merits of engaging with a government that the group has long viewed as illegitimate, analysts say.

In the two weeks since Ghani's offer, the Taliban has posted a statement and an unsigned commentary on its Alemarah website, pouring cold water on the plan hailed by US officials as "courageous".

But security experts say the proposal has placed the Taliban, Afghanistan's largest militant group, in a bind.
An outright refusal to talk to Ghani's administration would give Afghan and US forces justification to ramp up air strikes against the militants.

Acceptance, on the other hand, would undermine the group's long-held position that the Afghan government is a puppet of the United States and risk damaging its own credibility among its fighters.
"That won't sit well with many members in the trenches," Borhan Osman, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told AFP.

The Taliban's silence has provoked repeated calls for a direct response to Ghani's proposal made at an international conference in Kabul on February 28. The Afghan leader also called for a ceasefire after which the Taliban could become a political party.

"It's not an easy decision. If they reject the offer they will give the government the upper hand," an Afghan security source told AFP.
The unsigned commentary, posted Tuesday, reiterated the Taliban was prepared to negotiate, but only with Washington -- not with Kabul, referring to Ghani's government as the "slave regime" of the "American invaders".
The taunts follow a statement released late last week where the Taliban described the Afghan government as "illegitimate" and its peace process efforts as "deceptive".

That message also called for a boycott of an Islamic scholars' conference in Jakarta set to discuss peace prospects in Afghanistan.
"What the statement is saying is 'we haven't heard enough to come to talks'," a Western diplomat in Kabul told AFP.
A senior figure in the Taliban leadership council -- known as the Quetta Shura -- confirmed the militants were not treating Ghani's peace plan "seriously".

"We have said that we would talk with America. The Afghan government is a puppet government," he told AFP on the condition of anonymity, in apparent reference to the Taliban's earlier call for direct negotiations with the United States.
But not everyone in the Taliban leadership shares that view. APP/AFP