Afghan President Offers Amnesty to Taliban in Bid to End 17-Year War

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the second Kabul Process conference on Feb. 28, 2018. (Shah Marai / AFP/Getty Images)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday extended an olive branch to the Taliban, offering amnesty for war crime convictions and recognition of the insurgent group as a political party in a bid to end the nation’s conflict, now in its 17th year.

It was Afghanistan’s most significant peace overture to the large, fractious militant organization that currently controls more territory than at any time since the 2001 U.S.-led military invasion, but whose political aims have become unclear as the war has devolved into a bloody stalemate and its top leaders have been killed.

The Taliban surprised many observers two weeks ago when it wrote in an open letter that it wanted “a peaceful resolution” to the conflict. The group did not immediately respond to Ghani’s proposal, delivered at the start of a multinational conference to promote peace talks.

Ghani called for a cease-fire and prisoner release and offered insurgents who renounce violence and recognize the Afghan government a place in the country’s political institutions.

“We are making this offer without preconditions in order to lead to a peace agreement,” Ghani told representatives of about two dozen countries to the conference, known as the Kabul Process.

The terms of the offer resembled those of a deal Ghani struck two years ago with a once-powerful insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose forces were accused of causing thousands of civilian deaths during the 1990s but who now appears alongside Ghani at official ceremonies.

“It’s a very constructive offer with a lot of concessions to the Taliban, but we don’t know if they will accept this overture,” said Haroun Mir, an independent political analyst in Kabul, the capital.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Shashank Bengali and Sultan Faizy