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Leading Afghan government official Claims Taliban should have a place at peace talks

19 Nov 17
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A top official in Afghanistan’s government says the Taliban — Islamic extremists who have waged a deadly war in this nation — should get involved in peace talks once the opportunity arises.

Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of Afghanistan who is governing in tandem with President Ashraf Ghani, visited Halifax this weekend for its yearly Halifax International Security Forum.

He said the Afghan government believes a settlement probably depends on bringing the Taliban into discussions. “Absolutely. The door is open,” said Mr. Abdullah. ” [Our] national unity government … has shown its willingness to attempt and convince them to come to the table.

“If the Taliban opt for the political process … I believe people will welcome this,” he said. Mr. Abdullah said he does not believe most Afghans would vote for a Taliban party, however. “I’m pretty confident people will reject their thoughts.”

His remarks come as evidence indicate the Taliban is gaining ground in Afghanistan, nearly 3 years after many foreign troops left the south-central Asian nation. At their summit, U.S. and western coalition troops chased 150,000. Now about one-tenth stay.

A U.S. watchdog agency recently reported that the Taliban has increased the amount of land it controls or has influence within the previous six months. As of August, 13 percent of those 407 districts in Afghanistan were under Taliban control or influence, compared with 11 percent in February, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. That means an additional 700,000 people now reside in areas in which the Taliban has at least some influence.

Mr. Abdullah took pains to emphasize that the sacrifice of Canada and other western countries over the last 15 years hasn’t been in vain. Over 3,400 Americans and other foreigners lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2001, when the United States invaded to topple the Taliban from power.

By the time Canada’s combat operations in Afghanistan finished in 2011, 158 Canadian soldiers, 1 diplomat and one journalist was killed. Canada continued to train Afghan soldiers before 2014.

“You made sacrifices along with our blood and treasure and that role is recognized and valued and we’re thankful,” the Afghan official said in an interview.

The challenge would be to convince the Taliban and other extremist groups, such as Islamic State, that they can’t retake Afghanistan by force.

“If the forces fighting against the authorities feel they could win militarily, it’ll be very tough to convince them. First you want to convince them on the ground they can’t win militarily,” Mr. Abdullah said.

This is more difficult with the majority of foreign troops gone but Mr. Abdullah welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to boost soldier deployments to Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported in August that the United States was sending 4,000 more soldiers in addition to the 8,500 already there.

He explained the situation — while far from perfect — is much better than what the Taliban had expected. “They’d expected with the 2014 [overseas troop] withdrawal they may arrive in full force back, which isn’t what had occurred,” Mr. Abdullah said, adding that Kabul is working to expand the size of its special forces and air pressure to be able to bolster its control over Afghanistan.

Asked whether Canada should once again deploy troops to Afghanistan, Mr. Abdullah did not directly answer but rather thanked Ottawa for other kinds of aid it provides. In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government committed $465-million more than three years to Afghanistan, much of it for help projects.

If he does not want more foreign troops, Mr. Abdullah certainly wants money and other military resources, warning that Afghanistan could grow as a source of extremism if jihadist groups like Islamic State or the Taliban or al-Qaeda gain more ground.

“There’s a collective responsibility,” he said.

“What do you do together? Let them develop? In precisely the exact same manner, over the nineties the planet overlooked Al Qaeda, which helped them to enlarge and inflict casualties like those in 9/11,” he said.

Mr. Abdullah said the ability of Taliban forces to take safe haven in neighbouring Pakistan should also be handled.

The 2014 election that saw Mr. Abdullah come next to his rival, Mr. Ghani, was marred by fraud. He said steps Afghanistan is taking to fight corruption will resolve the issue. “No nation can tolerate or look the other way,” Mr. Abdullah said. “It’s a significant issue and serious measures are being taken. Hopefully our forthcoming elections will be better, far better than before.”

– With files from Reuters

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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