‘Right moment’ for peace in Afghanistan, Ghani tells Taliban - GulfToday

‘Right moment’ for peace in Afghanistan, Ghani tells Taliban

Ashraf-Ghani-750

Ashraf Ghabni. File

Now is the “right moment” for peace in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday as he once more called on the Taliban to negotiate with his government.

The Taliban have steadfastly refused to discuss peace with Ghani, whom they consider a US stooge heading an illegitimate regime.

But a series of talks in recent days seems to have shifted the needle in Afghanistan’s war, with the US and the Taliban claiming to have made significant progress during a summit in Doha.

Additionally, some members of Ghani’s circle attended overlapping talks in the Qatari capital with the Taliban, though only in what they called a “personal capacity.”

“In the past 18 years the time was not right for peace, for a realistic peace. Today is the right moment,” Ghani said at an EU anti-corruption conference being held in Kabul.

“If we lose this opportunity then the responsibility (for the loss) is big.” Ghani stressed that the Taliban and his government must negotiate. “We are the two warring sides,” he said.

Following days of talks last week with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the Taliban met Afghan representatives at an “intra-Afghan dialogue.”

The US has insisted on such talks and the two Afghan sides issued a joint resolution pledging a “roadmap for peace” for the war-torn country.

In Kabul, it is hard to miss the late Ahmad Shah Massoud. His bearded visage is painted onto blast walls across the city, his photo adorns the windscreens of pro-government forces. And a central roundabout bears his name.

More than 17 years since his assassination, the legendary fighter who battled the Soviets and the Taliban has become something of an Afghan icon.

The feats of the “Lion of Panjshir,” named for his home valley north of Kabul, has earned him a devoted following in war-weary Afghanistan.

The most famous images of Massoud, with a beige pakol — the traditional Afghan woollen hat — perched on his head, can now be found on T-shirts, key rings and even coffee cups in Kabul’s markets.

Massoud gained fame for his military prowess, through which he kept Panjshir free even during the bloody Soviet occupation (1979-89) and under the Taliban regime (1996-2001).

“Every country has a national hero, and Massoud is known worldwide as our national hero, that is why you see his pictures all over the country,” said Shamsullah Jawid, a former mujahideen fighter who now is a Panjshir prosecutor.

Massoud’s only son, Ahmad, said his father’s vision for Afghanistan was a “peaceful country with good relations between all ethnicities and neighbouring countries.”

Massoud was the first to approach the Taliban to seek peace, noted Ahmad, 29, who now runs a foundation bearing his father’s name.

The United States is currently leading a push to find a peace deal with the insurgents.

“Peace has not come and the struggles Afghanistan still face keep piling up,” explained Ahmad.

“In this current situation they need a Massoud figure to be again their saviour,” he said of the nation’s love of his father.

Massoud was killed aged 47 in 2001 by a team of Al Qaeda bombers posing as journalists.

His death came two days before the Sept.11 attacks that would precipitate the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban, who had granted Al Qaeda safe haven.

Massoud has subsequentially been elevated to the rank of Afghan “national hero” by presidential decree.

American historian Michael Barry, an Afghanistan specialist who lived with Massoud and wrote a biography about him, said his subject’s legacy comes from his struggle against two of the 20th century’s most totalitarian regimes.

“He missed Nazism but he fought against the Soviet Union and he fought against what Al-Qaeda came to represent,” Barry said.

“With the passage of time, the various shifting political strategies that the real Massoud engaged in have become blurred and forgotten behind the iconic image of someone who gave his life for the defence of his country.”

In Kabul, followers shoot weapons in the air to honour his memory, an event that invariably results in locals getting wounded.

His likeness is emblazoned on goods in a small gift shop beside his burial ground and memorial in Panjshir — something that Massoud may not have approved of.

Agence France-Presse