In Peace Overture, Afghan President Offers Passports to TalibanBy ANDREW E. KRAMER (FEB. 28, 2018) The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan renewed a call on Wednesday for the Taliban to join peace talks, offering to treat the insurgent group as a legitimate political party, though it has repeatedly rejected similar proposals.

In the latest overture, Mr. Ghani said his government would provide the Taliban with an office in the capital, Kabul; passports for its members; help resettling militants’ families; and assistance in scrubbing the names of top commanders from international terrorist blacklists.

“We believe in providing a peaceful and respectful life for all Afghans, including those Taliban who leave violence behind,” Mr. Ghani said. He spoke at a peace conference, called the Kabul Process, attended by more than 20 nations but not the Taliban.

There appears little chance of any breakthrough, but the Afghan government made the offer to demonstrate to an international audience that it is willing to negotiate, and to encourage those participating in the conference to pressure the Taliban to accept. The government is under pressure to offer incentives as the United States increases military pressure.

The Taliban’s main faction has insisted on direct negotiations with the United States and dismisses the American-backed government in Kabul as a puppet.

The Taliban has yet to respond to Mr. Ghani’s proposal. But in a statement on Monday, they said they had asked American officials to talk directly to their political office, and not through the Afghan government. The statement also said that “military strategies which have repeatedly been tested in Afghanistan over the past 17 years will only intensify and prolong the war.”

Under President Trump, the American strategy for ending the war has entailed expanding a campaign of airstrikes and putting pressure on Pakistan to force the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

American commanders have claimed progress, but only in measures that are classified. A Pentagon study made public this month showed that the Afghan government controlled 18 percent of the country’s districts at the end of last year and had influence over an additional 38 percent.

While the insurgents dominate only a sliver of the country, they still hold substantial sway. The Taliban collect taxes from businesses and run a shadow judicial system for settling disputes, preferred by some Afghans over the corrupt government courts.

In one measure of the Taliban’s reach, cellphone companies comply with the group’s request to halt service around 5 p.m. in parts of the country, including in Kunduz, a major city, lest the insurgents blow up transmission towers. The blackouts demonstrate influence, and the Taliban say they also serve a practical purpose of preventing government informants from calling in tips about their nighttime movements.

Around dusk on Tuesday, insurgents attacked a checkpoint in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, killing five police officers, and later stopped a bus and captured 19 passengers as hostages, according to a police spokesman.

The peace talks known as the Kabul Process began last year and are intended to demonstrate unity in the international community for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The United Nations also backs this approach.

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