The Afghan Taliban gave a cool reception to President Ashraf Ghani's offer of political recognition and a truce while representatives from more than 20 countries voiced support for his peace plan.
As he convened a conference of countries involved in the so-called Kabul Process on Feb. 28, 2018, Ghani had proposed a cease-fire, release of prisoners, the removal of sanctions, and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group.
"I call on Taliban and their leadership — today, the decision is in your hands. Accept peace — a dignified peace — come together to safeguard this country," Ghani said.
"We are making this offer without any preconditions in order to pave the way for a peace agreement," he said, insisting that Kabul "will consider the Taliban's view in the peace talks."
Participants in the one-day conference in Kabul issued a statement at the end that called on the Taliban to join the Afghan-led peace effort, "cease violence immediately," and "pursue their goals through direct talks" with the Kabul government.
"A peace agreement will be a victory for all its parties and a defeat for none," the statement said.
Taliban's "Red Unit" on the march. (Photo released on official Taliban Telegram account)
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan also welcomed Ghani's offer and said it "strongly supports the vision for peace through intra-Afghan dialogue."
The Taliban, which was not invited to the conference, did not immediately respond. A Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that senior Taliban leaders were studying the proposal.
But dpa reported late on Feb. 28 that a statement on one of the Taliban's websites was cool to the proposal. The statement said there was "no doubt" that Ghani had given "an excellent speech." But the group said he had neglected a central point, according to dpa.
The Taliban statement said the main reason that the Afghan war continues is the presence of "foreign invading forces," and peace talks would be meaningless until those forces exit Afghanistan, according to dpa.
"If Ashraf Ghani dreams of peace in the presence of the invaders, he must understand that such efforts have not resulted in anything in the past 17 years," dpa quoted the Taliban statement as saying.
The Taliban has previously refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, which it calls a "puppet regime," while demanding the withdrawal of NATO forces before any peace talks can begin.
The Taliban recently said it would be willing to engage in talks with the United States, the largest contributor of troops to the 16-year war.
But Washington, which has been stepping up attacks on the Taliban under a new strategy aimed at forcing it to the negotiating table, insists that the Kabul government must play a lead role in the negotiations.
The Afghan government and the Taliban held peace talks in 2015, but they broke down almost immediately.