KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday called for a national uprising and “war against the Taliban,” accusing the group of having no intention of working toward a negotiated peace settlement.
During a parliamentary session, Afghanistan’s leader also unveiled an American-supported security plan aimed at curbing Taliban advances.
The group has made major territorial gains in recent months after US-led foreign forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan on May 1 following 20 years of occupation.
But Ghani’s announcement has raised concerns in some quarters over the chances of a peace deal now ever being reached and only heightening the prospect of a prolonged conflict.
In his speech, which was broadcast live, Ghani said: “Our enemy not only took any step toward peace but also considered our sincerity and honesty as weakness.”
Details of his security plan have not yet been made public, but the president, whose second term in office is set to expire in 2024, pointed out that it would “change the situation of war in six months.”
In a statement on Monday, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, described Ghani’s speech as “nonsense.”
He said: “It’s an attempt to control his fears and dire situation … declarations of war, accusations, and lies cannot prolong Ghani’s life, his time has run out, God willing.”
Ghani noted that his administration had shown “flexibility” and taken “steps that no government in the world would dare” for the sake of a “compromise” with the Taliban, such as releasing Taliban prisoners under a US-facilitated peace process that began in Doha, Qatar more than a year ago.
“Unfortunately, the conclusion in the rank of the republic, our negotiating team (for talks with the Taliban) is that the Taliban in their conscience have no belief for a lasting and just peace unless there is change on the war front,” Ghani, 72, said.
He added that his government had the “financial and political support of Washington” for the security plan and told MPs and senators to “mobilize” resources for “war against the Taliban.”
He said: “My concentration today is on national unity and oneness. Today, we are facing a major national test … every delegate and senator has ties with thousands of people. Use your strong networks today to form a national mobilization to give a decisive response to the enemy and their backers.”
Without directly naming the US, Ghani linked the current escalation of the war in Afghanistan to a “hasty process” of engaging in talks with the Taliban and exerting “pressure” on the Kabul government, which was sidelined from the subsequent Doha deal between former US President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban.
Violence has recently escalated throughout Afghanistan, with the Taliban capturing several districts and vital border crossings. The Pentagon has estimated that the group now controls more than half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers.
As the remaining foreign troops continued to depart Afghanistan under a process expected to be completed in the next few weeks, Ghani said a lack of preparedness on the part of Afghan forces and weakness in its middle leadership ranks had led to loss of territory to the Taliban.
In recent days, the Taliban have concentrated their attacks on major cities in western Herat, Kandahar, and adjacent Helmand in the south.
The group’s advances in the past three months prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, impose night curfews in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces, and arm locals to fight the Taliban.
None of his controversial measures, however, appear to have been effective in driving the Taliban out of the captured areas.
Ghani told Parliament that Afghanistan was “facing a wave of unprecedented terrorism,” and accused the Taliban of being “more violent” and brutal than when the group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 before being toppled from power in a US-led invasion.
Hamida Akbari, a lawmaker from Wardak province who was present for Ghani’s speech in Parliament, told Arab News that the president’s announcement would lead to a “prolonged war.”
He said: “(Ghani) made the announcement of war. We expected that he would have a new plan and thought he would try to reduce the tension. This means prolongation of the war.”
Some experts, however, said Ghani’s speech showed desperation to hang onto power.
Torek Farhadi, an analyst and adviser to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News: “Ghani’s speech to Parliament sounded like a person who has lost a few chess games with friends and foes but is insisting on a last game where he promises to win.
“Afghans are not spectators; they are paying for both sides’ warmongering with their lives. Ghani should be thinking of passing power to a third side for salvaging of Afghanistan from the current crisis,” he said.