Afghan president invites Taliban to run in election as militant group gains ground

Afghanistan’s president has invited the Taliban to take part in the upcoming parliamentary election in October. The unusual offer comes as the militant group continues to seize swathes of land in the war-torn country.

The Afghan government made “a clear and comprehensive suggestion about peace” to the Taliban, President Ashraf Ghani declared on Saturday as he spoke at a voter registration launch ceremony, Pajhwok reported. “The upcoming election is a great opportunity” for those “who think they have roots in this country,” he said.

The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement which emerged back in the 1980s, now “can appear as a political party and participate in this process,” Ghani says. He added that Afghans are “tired of the bloodshed,” and urged the militant group “to be serious about elections.”

President Ghani already offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group in late February. The offer included negotiating a ceasefire and the release of the Taliban’s prisoners, as well as holding including new elections that would involve the militants. The Taliban did not respond to the proposal.

However, Mohammed Akram Khpalwak, chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council – an agency in charge of negotiating with the Taliban – claimed on Saturday the group is considering the proposal. “As per our information, discussions are ongoing among them [the Taliban],” he said, as cited by TOLO News.

Arranging direct peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban has long been floated by world powers and Afghanistan’s neighbors. Recently, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev said his country is willing to host negotiations.

Meanwhile, Ghani’s peace offer came several days after the Taliban scored another victory in Ghazni province, not far from Kabul. On Thursday, Taliban fighters killed the governor of Ghazni’s Khawaja Omari district, Ali Dost Shams, as well as his bodyguards, seven police officers, and five government intelligence agents, according to a local police official.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mojahid then said in a statement that the group now controls key parts of the district, including government and police headquarters. Provincial officials denied this claim. Khawaja Omari was considered one of Ghazni province’s safest districts.

Last year, the militant group stepped up its attacks, mostly in the north and south of the country. In July 2017, Taliban fighters raided and seized the district of Jani Khel in Paktia province located south of Kabul. The fall of Jani Khel marked the straight third victory by the Islamists in just four days.

Previously, the Taliban overran Kohistan district in the northern province of Faryab after storming the district government’s headquarters, forcing local security forces to retreat to another base. Just hours after the capture of Kohistan, the Taliban seized the Taywara district in western Ghor province.

The group has gained a significant foothold in the country despite initially being pushed back by the US-led invasion 17 years ago. Since then, tens of thousands of lives have been lost while Afghanistan remains plagued by deep-seated corruption, terrorism, and tribal divides.

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