KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A senior Afghan leader said on Monday that his country's government will begin peace talks with the Taliban in the "near future."
The statement by Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive in a government of national unity, came after President Ashraf Ghani declared over the weekend that peace is closer now than at any time since the war began following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Abdullah, whose post is akin to that of a prime minister, spoke to a meeting of Cabinet members on Monday. An official in Abdullah's office who was present at the meeting quoted Abdullah as saying that Pakistani officials had told Taliban leaders to begin peace talks with the Afghan government. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss details of a Cabinet meeting.
"Pakistani officials said they have told the Taliban that their only option now is to hold peace talks with the Afghan government, and this is what we have been waiting to hear," the official quoted Abdullah as saying.
"The Afghan government will start peace talks with the Taliban in the near future," Abdullah said, adding that the government would keep the Afghan people informed of any progress in talks with the Taliban "from the beginning to the end of the process."
Brokering a peace deal with the insurgents is a priority for Ghani, who took office in September.
In a statement following Abdullah's comments, the Taliban said that they alone would announce any developments toward talks with Afghan authorities.
"If there are any developments, we will announce it through our official sources to our nation as well as to the world," the Taliban statement said.
Since taking office, Ghani has rolled out a complex strategy aimed at forcing the Taliban leadership to accept that their cause — replacing his government with an Islamist emirate — is hopeless. He has enlisted the support of regional countries believed to protect, fund and arm the Taliban, including Pakistan.