By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of Afghanistan’s peace council said on Friday that long-stalled talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks, unless the insurgents themselves pull out.
“I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview. “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”
Abdullah spoke after he and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House for talks on U.S. military and civilian aid, and issues stemming from the departure of the last U.S. troops nearly 20 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
The former political rivals’ two-day visit, which included meetings with lawmakers from both parties and the Pentagon leadership, came at a time of surging violence across Afghanistan as government forces struggle to beat back Taliban advances.
Biden told Ghani and Abdullah that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future” and the “senseless violence has to stop.”
The fighting, however, has raised grave doubts about long-stalled U.S.-backed peace negotiations between the insurgents and a delegation that includes government officials that began in Doha under the Trump administration in 2020.
Abdullah said there was “perhaps more optimism” about a peace deal when the negotiations began because “the Taliban said things to different interlocutors that created optimism.”
Still, Abdullah said, the talks should not be abandoned.
“Eventually, the last man killed will not be a solution,” he said. “There has to be a peaceful settlement.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)