Mohammad Habibzada - VOA News
The Afghan Taliban say they are deeply skeptical that a proposed three-nation conference in Indonesia will be a step toward peace.
Jakarta is preparing to host a trilateral conference where religious scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia would seek ways to bring peace to war-torn Afghanistan.
But the Afghan Taliban urged scholars, to boycott the conference. In a note to journalists, the Afghan Taliban said the conference was purely intended to "legitimize the illegitimate government of Afghanistan and the presence of infidel invaders in the country".
The Afghan religious council, a body leading the Afghan side in the conference, denies the claim and says the conference will feature discussions among religious scholars, searching for a path to peace and security, and the end of terrorism.
The head of media and strategic relations of the High Peace Council said: "We will facilitate their presence should the Afghan Taliban intend to participate in the conference." Sayed Ehsanullah Tahiri also told VOA his group would ask Indonesian officials to invite the Taliban to the conference.
Indonesia's religious council said the Taliban's doubts about the conference will not derail the effort.
"Maybe the Taliban is not well-informed and received the wrong information about the conference," Muhyiddin Junaidi of Indonesia's religious council told Arab News.
"We just want to listen to them and share our experience in resolving conflicts. We also want to synchronize our procedures on issuing a fatwa [to bring peace in Afghanistan]," Junaidi added.
Pakistani religious scholars' council sees the Indonesian trilateral conference as an opportunity for peace.
Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, chairman Pakistan Religious Council told VOA Urdu: "This is the first time we have heard that Indonesia is hosting such a conference. We think only dialogue can bring peace to the Afghan conflict."
No date is set for the conference yet. Afghan and Indonesian officials say, however, it will be held later this month in Jakarta.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional talks to the Taliban and said to recognize the group as a political party. The president also offered to provide passports to Taliban members and their families, along with an office in Kabul.
The Afghan government insists the Taliban will never achieve victory on the battlefield. That is why the commander of US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, says insurgent group would be wise to accept the peace offer.
"So this really is probably their best time to attempt a negotiation, because it's only going to get worse for them," he added.
While the Taliban might still mull whether to accept or reject the offer, a former member of the insurgent group claims the Taliban does not trust the peace negotiation offered by the Afghan president.
"The doors of negotiations were closed when Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour [Taliban leader] got killed. Now the Taliban will not negotiate because it would cement the narrative of being forced to negotiate and they do not want to display weakness," Waheed Muzhda, a former Taliban member told VOA.
"Taliban have said that the negotiation is a conspiracy to weaken and divide us," he added.
The insurgent group previously offered to hold talks on a possible peace agreement, not with Afghanistan government, but directly with the United States.
The offer was declined earlier by U.S. officials, and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: "We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort," Mattis told reporters.
While the Afghan Taliban has not accepted the peace process, leaders of the international community joined the Afghan government urging the Taliban to take advantage of the offer.
Last Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed NATO's support of an Afghan-led peace deal.
"I commend President Ghani for his courageous leadership. His offer to the Taliban is the clearest invitation to peace yet. So I call on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. There is an opportunity now to end the conflict", he added.
Members of the UN Security Council also welcomed the Afghan government's offer, commending their commitment to developing a practical plan for reconciliation.
Last Thursday, the UN Security Council urged the insurgent group to "accept this offer without any preconditions and without the threat of violence, with the aim of an ultimate political settlement that leads to sustainable peace for the people of Afghanistan."
Similarly, China and the European Union believe the Taliban should seize the opportunity and accept the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's offer to recognize the movement as a legitimate political group.
"China and the EU believe that this is an offer that is meaningful. It is an offer that presents an opportunity and a window that should be seized by all parties across the conflict lines," Ambassador Roland Kobia, EU's special envoy to Afghanistan said last Wednesday in Beijing, according to Reuters.
While the peace offer is still on the table, the Afghan government and its international allies continue to target the Taliban as the insurgents carry out attacks all over the country.