Ghani confident about reaching peace deal

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WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday voiced confidence on reaching a peace deal to end the Taliban insurgency.

“I feel that it is now not a question of if, but when,” Mr Ghani said of a peace agreement in a wide-ranging appearance by video at Johns Hopkins University, where he was formerly a professor.

“All wars have to end politically. There are very few wars, particularly the wars of the 21st century, that are going to end militarily,” he said.

Mr Ghani, who is running for re-election next year, said he was offering unconditional talks and pointed to an unprecedented ceasefire with the Taliban in June as a hopeful sign though he warned that Pakistan’s alleged meddling risked sparking long-term hostility.

Two Taliban members freed amid US envoy’s visit to region

In what could be part of American efforts to revive peace talks with the insurgent group that now controls nearly half of Afghanistan, Pakistan released two Taliban officials on Monday as US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is currently on a visit to the region, with stops in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Abdul Samad Sani, a US-designated terrorist who served as the Afghan Central Bank governor during the militants’ rule in the late 1990s, and a low-ranking commander named Salahuddin, were released, according to two Taliban officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

There was no immediate comment from the Pakistan government.

During the previous visit of the US special envoy to the region, Pakistan had released another Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had been arrested eight years ago in a joint operation of US and Pakistan. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a recent interview said he had repeatedly tried to secure Baradar’s release, but the efforts had been thwarted by both Pakistan and the US.

Efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan’s protracted war have accelerated in recent months, as a troop surge announced by President Donald Trump last August has done little to change conditions on the ground. In recent months, the Taliban carried out near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces as well as coordinated assaults on major cities.

Afghanistan’s government, which is jointly headed by President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, has been prickly about direct talks between Washington and the Taliban, while the latter demanded direct talks with the US. Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the recent talks between Mr Khalilzad and the Taliban in Qatar.

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