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Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani urges chief rival to lead talks with Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani votes in the presidential election at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 28, 2019. He was ultimately declared the winner. File Photo by Jawad Jalali/EPA-EFE
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani votes in the presidential election at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 28, 2019. He was ultimately declared the winner. File Photo by Jawad Jalali/EPA-EFE

April 3 (UPI) -- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered a surprising proposal on Friday, suggesting that his political rival be the one to lead key government peace negotiations with the Taliban militant group.

Ghani and Kabul Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have been at odds for many months going back to last year -- first during their presidential campaigns and then later when Ghani was formally declared the winner of September's election. Abdullah has refused the ruling and maintains that he is president of Afghanistan.

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Ghani's suggestion Friday to put Abdullah in charge of intra-Afghan talks is an olive branch to break the political impasse.

"A high peace council should be established and [Abdullah] should head the high peace council," the president said. "His protocol can be the protocol of a vice president, his security, his budget, his decision-making, all can be discussed. We have full flexibility."

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Abdullah has not responded to Ghani's proposal. On Tuesday, he praised the inclusive membership of a negotiating team that will take up talks with the Taliban.

"The formation of an inclusive negotiation team is an important step toward facilitating intra-Afghan negotiations," he tweeted. "Our lasting position is that a fair, dignified and sustainable peace is the priority of all [Afghanistan] citizens."

Ghani said Abdullah would be allowed to use his own aides and staff in the new cabinet.

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"Measures should be clear. Each minister, without exception, should have a commitment with [lawmakers], with me and with the nation," Ghani added.

U.S. officials have threatened to cut billions in aid to Afghanistan if Ghani and Abdullah don't settle their dispute and form a new government.

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