KABUL -- Afghanistan's neighbours and the international community have welcomed the Afghan government's call for unconditional peace talks with the Taliban and support its framework for peace.
The Afghan government released its plan Wednesday morning (February 28) at the second round of the Kabul Process conference, outlining its offer for peace -- which comes without any preconditions.
The Kabul conference brought together 25 countries and international organisations -- including all of Afghanistan's neighbours, the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council and other parties -- to establish a consensus on the imperative for an Afghan-led peace process.
Finding a political end to war
The Afghan government's plan states that Afghan stakeholders from across society -- including women, civil society members, ulema, entrepreneurs, students, professionals, politicians, farmers and labourers, among others -- in consultation with the government and the High Peace Council have reached a consensus on the desire for peace.
"Afghans have a sense of urgency, stemming from four decades of suffering and more recently, unrestricted warfare on citizens," the document says.
The National Unity Government is responding to this consensus and urgency by developing a vision of peace, and a process and programme to realise it, TOLO News reported.
"Realisation of this vision requires compassion, conviction and courage in dealing with the Taliban," says the document.
"We must have the compassion to understand the perspective of the combatant. We must have the conviction to act on Allah's commandment to seek common ground, both as Afghans and Muslims," it says.
"We must have the courage to listen to grievances, analyse the root causes and drivers of conflict and hear a diversity of proposals for reconciliation."
The document mapped out seven areas for building peace, including a mutually acceptable political process, a legal framework, reorganisation of the state, security, economic/social development, international community support and partnership, and implementation modalities for urgent, short- and medium-term benchmarks as well as monitoring and verification mechanisms.
Every war requires a political solution, said President Ashraf Ghani.
"We are offering this not out of desperation but out of courage and conviction," he said in an interview with CNN. "The violence that is inflicted on our people, the type of violence [the Taliban] are resorting to, is an indication of weakness not strength."
"To kill innocent civilians is not an act of courage," he said.
The Taliban have so far not responded to the Afghan government's offer.
The group's spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, however, criticised the Kabul Process conference, tweeting that it sought the Taliban's "surrender".
International actors support Afghan-led peace
"The UN Mission strongly supports the vision for peace through intra-Afghan dialogue and urges all parties involved to engage at the earliest time," the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement released Wednesday.
The statement commended the Afghan authorities' "stated preparedness ... to discuss all issues as part of the peace process", including key aspects such as the constitution, the lifting of sanctions against persons and entities and the release of prisoners.
The US government also welcomed Afghanistan's plans for peace talks with the Taliban but said it would keep up military pressure against the militants.
US Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass hailed Ghani's "very courageous stand" and his "commitment to pursue a peaceful settlement through talks".
"We reinforce our call to the Taliban to begin direct talks with the Afghan government with no preconditions," he told journalists in Kabul Thursday (March 1). "We have called on the Taliban to cease violence, and we all wait to see how they will respond."
"They have indeed been feeling the pressure on the battlefield, the pressure on their drug revenues and their financing," he said, referring to the US military's bolstered air campaign against Taliban positions, training camps and drug laboratories that began in November.
"With this unified call [for peace], they are now feeling more pressure from a range of regional actors," Bass said. "But until we do see results, we are going to ... support the Afghan forces."
Bass said the consensus for peace was "a pretty significant achievement indicating that all the countries of the region want the conflict to be resolved and all are prepared to help", including Pakistan, which is regularly accused of supporting the insurgents.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said his country backs the Afghan government's plan for peace with the Taliban.
"The talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are actually discussions between two political forces, and Pakistan will support it," he said Thursday, according to Dawn. "Pakistan is also ready for one-on-one mediation with the Afghan Taliban."