Uzbekistan on Tuesday hosted an international conference on Afghanistan and offered to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in an effort to help end more than 16 years of war in the country.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev told senior diplomats from regional as well as NATO member states that his county was ready to host direct talks with the Taliban.
“We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange on the territory of Uzbekistan direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” Mirziyoyev said at the conference.
The Taskhkent conference comes almost a month after the Kabul Process Conference in which the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and pledged to recognize the insurgent group as a legitimate political party if it agreed to give up violence.
The insurgents have yet to formally respond to the Afghan government’s offer.
Expert offer different explanations to Taliban’s silence.
Rebecca Zimmerman, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, believes the apparent silence suggests there is some space for negotiations.
“In the past, they [Taliban] haven’t been shy about publicly rejecting talks for failing to meet preconditions, even while they have been having private conversations. So in this case, I think keeping a low profile means there may be some negotiation space.” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman’s analysis of the situation is not too far from the calculation of some in the Afghan government.
Optimism inside government
Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, chief secretary of the High Peace Council, a government funded body tasked with talking to the insurgents, told reporters earlier this month that they are waiting on an official response from the Afghan Taliban and that their sources indicated that the peace offer has led to high level deliberations among insurgents about what to do with the offer.
Afghan National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar told VOA’s Afghanistan service last week that if the Taliban need more time than they would grant it.