Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah said Monday that peace talks with the Taliban could begin in the coming days, though the militants swiftly dismissed the idea.
There have been growing hopes in recent weeks of talks between Kabul and the Taliban aimed at moving towards reconciliation after more than a decade of war. Since President Ashraf Ghani took office in September, relations have markedly improved with Pakistan, which has long held influence with the Taliban, paving the way for possible dialogue.
“Peace talks will insh Allah start in the next few days, this is in the interest of Afghanistan,” Abdullah said during a meeting of the country’s Council of Ministers.
Abdullah took the newly-created role of chief executive, similar to prime minister, as part of a deal to end a protracted election crisis with presidential rival Ghani.
“The people of Afghanistan will be informed of the start of these talks, of developments and of when they end. “Abdullah hailed the visit of the army chief General Raheel Sharif to Kabul last week.
“We welcome his statement saying Afghanistan’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy,” Abdullah said.
“They said to those involved in the fighting, the Taliban, that they have no other option but to talk with the Afghan government. “But the militants denied that talks were about to begin.
“We have repeatedly said that those reports, which were not announced by officials of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan and their formal sources, are not true, and baseless,” the Taliban said in a statement, referring to themselves by their preferred name.
On Friday, Ghani also praised Pakistan for “recent efforts in paving the ground for peace and reconciliation.”
In the statement, Ghani cited two major recent attacks as helping to bring the countries closer together —one in Yahya Khel in Afghanistan in November that left nearly 50 people dead, and a Taliban massacre at a school in the Pakistan city of Peshawar in December that killed 153, mostly children.
The Afghan president also said during a press conference with visiting US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Kabul on Saturday that conditions were ripe for a potential breakthrough.
“The grounds for peace have never been better in the last 36 years,” Ghani said.