UK should hold talks with Taliban: Defense secretary

By Muhammad Mussa

LONDON (AA) – Britain should hold talks with the Taliban to find a long-term solution in establishing peace in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson told Defense Select Committee.

According to the daily Telegraph, Williamson said it was in the U.K.’s vital interests that peace and stability be established in Afghanistan and that Britain was committed in ensuring that elections in the country, due to be held later this year, be carried out in a peaceful manner.

“I strongly believe that the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is through a political settlement, led and owned by Afghans themselves,” the Telegraph quoted Williamson as saying.

“Afghanistan’s future must be decided through dialogue, not the gun,” he added.

The secretary admitted that it would be “incredibly painful for many people to accept, given the price paid” but also cautioned that “there are many malign reasons why some countries are involved in Afghanistan [so it is] important we energize the peace process”.

Williamson also praised Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for offering peace talks with the Taliban, calling the offer “open and generous.”

The comments made by the Defense Secretary, to hold peace talks with the Taliban, was the first by a serving minister of the country which joined the U.S. in invading Afghanistan in 2001 and ousting the Taliban from power.

Earlier this year, President Ashraf Ghani unveiled plans for peace talks with the Taliban, saying that he would recognize the group as a legitimate political organization in an effort to bring the 16-year war to an end.

In recent years, and especially following the withdrawal of international forces, the Taliban have staged a resurgent comeback, launching offensives and capturing towns and cities, putting the government in Kabul under increasing strain.

It was reported last week that the U.K. would send 450 troops to Afghanistan to help provide security. However, it is not known whether or not they would undertake combat roles and missions.