Abdullah says Afghan leaders need to unite over peace talks

Afghanistan’s chief peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah said the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country was not the “end of the world for our people”, but that the exit will present “huge challenges”.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Abdullah said the Afghan leadership now needs to stand united in the peace talks and that the focus now needs to be on the negotiations.

“I wouldn’t call it (withdrawal) the end of the world for our people. I would say that it will be very challenging and that’s why I am of the opinion that the whole focus has to be on achieving peace,” he said.

Abdullah also said he is unconvinced the Taliban want peace. He said the High Council for National Reconciliation, of which he is the chairman, has put out countless calls for the Taliban to put all their demands on the table.

Messages go back and forth between a variety of Taliban to senior negotiators, including himself, said Abdullah. He noted that he has received countless messages from Taliban officials, some written, some as voice messages. Sometimes they are detailed, and other times terse and brief. But he said he has yet to see a commitment to peace from the insurgent group on which he can rely.

Abdullah said his response to the Taliban has been consistent: “Put everything that you want on the negotiating table. We are ready to discuss it. We are ready to find ways that it works for both sides.”

He said the withdrawal adds pressure on both sides to find a peace deal.

Abdullah said an “inclusive, peaceful settlement, this is what everybody believes in. … God forbid if we don’t have peace then, of course, nobody has forgotten the recent history of the country. So everything has to be done in order to mitigate the serious consequences of the withdrawal.”

Abdullah questioned assurances Washington has received from the Taliban to reject terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaeda, the reason Washington and NATO invaded 20 years ago.

“What has happened to al-Qaeda?” he asked. “That’s a big question.”