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Afghan Leader Makes Rare Reference to Taliban

Oct 31, 2014, Associated Press

Afghanistan's new president invited the Taliban to join in a peace process backed by the international community on Friday, in an unusual direct reference to the insurgents who have stepped up attacks aimed at bringing down his month-old government.

Speaking at a conference on Afghan peace and reconstruction in Beijing, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai made no specific proposals and indicated government forces wouldn't back away from the fight. However, his mention of the Taliban by name marked a departure from his usual public references to them as "political opponents."

"Peace is our highest priority. We invite the political opposition, particularly the Taliban, to join and enter Afghan dialogue, and ask all of our international partners to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process," Ghani Ahmadzai said.

"We must not and will not permit groups pursuing grand illusions to use our country as the battleground or launching-pad against the international system," he added.

Ghani Ahmadzai's attitude toward the Taliban has been a departure from that of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, who habitually referred to the insurgents as his "brothers" and castigated the United States for its military presence in Afghanistan. In response, the Taliban have intensified suicide bombings, roadside bombings and rocket attacks in Kabul to give the impression that Ghani Ahmadzai's government can't protect the capital.

In his address to the gathering, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China has faith in Afghanistan's ability to solve its own problems, but that its neighbors should help create a peaceful environment without interfering in its internal affairs.