ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan's Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah said that peace talks to initiate reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban could start shortly, though the militants swiftly dismissed the idea.
Abdullah Abdullah's remarks are significant for the peace process as it would allay longstanding concerns of the Afghan Taliban who believe the leadership of the Northern Alliance, Uzbek and Hazara leaders could oppose the dialogue process.
Speaking at a seminar in Kabul in the presence of some senior Pakistani politicians, Abdullah said that peace talks are likely to start in two or three weeks.
“Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and others should not miss this opportunity,” he said at a seminar titled 'Tradition of non-violence in the region: Mahatma Gandhi and Bacha Khan—two leading flag bearers of non-violence'.
“Peace is the basic requirement of my country but it does not mean it compromises on our honour and dignity,” Abdullah said, in a veiled reference to the growing demands that the government should not compromise on the human rights, especially rights of women when it comes to holding talks with the Afghan Taliban.
He also told cabinet ministers on Monday that the nation's national interests would not be damaged in the peace process and that everybody would be kept on board with regards to any progress in the negotiations process.
Read: Afghan reconciliation: Taliban leadership gives go-ahead for peace talks
“Every Afghan wants peace and stability and we are optimistic this bring stability to Afghanistan,” Pakhwok, a private news agency, quoted Abdullah as telling the Council of Ministers.
But the militants denied that talks were about to begin, according to AFP.
"We have repeatedly said that those reports, which were not announced by officials of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan and their formal sources, are not true, and baseless," the Taliban said in a statement.
On Friday, Ghani also praised Pakistan for "recent efforts in paving the ground for peace and reconciliation."
In the statement, Ghani cited two major recent attacks as helping to bring the countries closer together -- one in Yahya Khel in Afghanistan in November that left nearly 50 people dead, and a Taliban massacre at an army-run school in Peshawar in December that killed 153, mostly children.
Abdullah hailed the visit of the army chief General Raheel Sharif to Kabul last week.
"We welcome his statement saying Afghanistan's enemy is Pakistan's enemy," Abdullah said.
"They said to those involved in the fighting, the Taliban, that they have no other option but to talk with the Afghan government."
The Afghan ambassador in Islamabad, Janan Mosazai, has also won support from the Pakistani religious scholars for the peace process. He met the Pakistan Ulema Council Central Chairman Allama Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, who promised to back the reconciliation with the Taliban, the embassy spokesperson, Barkatullah Rehmati said on his official Twitter.
Both sides agreed that the religious clerics' efforts towards achieving peace were of utmost importance, and also agreed to work together to mobilise the active support and voice of the ‘Ulema’ in the two neighbouring countries as well as from other Muslim states towards this cause.
An embassy statement posted online said Janan Mosazai briefed Maulana Ashrafi on the “Afghan government's vision for peace, security and development in Afghanistan as well as in the region.”
He said that given the current situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, peace in the two countries is a crucial and urgent need for the people of both countries and that “All concerned in the two countries and the region must join hands to ensure this noble goal.”
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