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ISLAMABAD - A senior official in Afghanistan announced Tuesday that under a "new" peace plan, the government will not seek any more unconditional negotiations with the Taliban and will require that a cease-fire last at least one month before initiating any peace process with the insurgent group.
Hamdullah Mohib, the adviser to President Ashraf Ghani on national security, revealed details of the plan at a news conference as officials confirmed to VOA a fresh Taliban attack in northern Jowzjan province killed at least 20 Afghan forces.
Mohib said the government has made the cease-fire a precondition because insurgents do not maintain unity of their command and do not control the war. Afghans have long alleged Pakistan covertly helps the Taliban, charges the neighboring country rejects.
Some key Taliban commanders have even joined Daesh, the adviser claimed while referring to the Islamic State terrorist group by an Arabic acronym.
"Before we enter into peace talks with them, Taliban leaders must prove how much control they have over their commanders and fighters," Mohib said.
The Taliban did not offer any reaction immediately to Mohib's assertions and allegations. The insurgent group rarely responds to Afghan official statements, dismissing the government in Kabul as an American puppet.
Critics are skeptical, however, about Afghan conclusions that the Taliban are divided or lack unity in their ranks. Analysts point to last year's cease-fire the Taliban had observed during the three-day Muslim festival of Eid when insurgents did not carry out a single attack across Afghanistan and resumed fighting as soon as the festivities ended.
Mohib spoke a day after the U.S. chief negotiator for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, ended a trip to Kabul where he held meetings with Ghani and other prominent Afghan political leaders regarding Washington's peace-building efforts.
This was Khalilzad's first visit to the country since President Donald Trump halted a yearlong direct peace dialogue with the Taliban in September, citing continued insurgent attacks on Afghans and American troops.
Adviser Mohib, however, said no peace-related discussions were held with Khalilzad and that the U.S. envoy's mission this time was to seek government cooperation in securing freedom for two Western hostages in Taliban custody.
American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks were teaching at a Kabul university when they were kidnapped at gunpoint just outside the campus three years ago. The Taliban has been demanding release of some of its key prisoners from Afghan jails before freeing the two men. King is said to be suffering from serious health problems.
"There were no discussions [with Khalilzad] on peace, nor were there discussions on political government in Afghanistan or other related issues. They are our internal matters and it is for the Afghan government to deal with them," Mohib said.
His remarks contradicted those of chief presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi, who said earlier this week that Khalilzad briefed Ghani on his recent visits and meetings "in some countries" regarding the Afghan peace process.
The U.S.-Taliban talks excluded Kabul's representation from the outset because of opposition from the insurgent group, creating rifts in Kabul's relations with Washington.
During a U.S. visit in March, Mohib leveled strong criticism of Khalilzad's conduct of the peace process. Addressing reporters at the Afghan embassy, Mohib accused the Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat of a lack of transparency and "delegitimizing" the Kabul government by excluding it from the process.
The Trump administration denounced the allegations and has since stopped conducting official business with Mohib.
The draft peace deal Khalilzad negotiated with the Taliban, before Trump canceled the process, required the insurgents to engage in intra-Afghan negotiations and give assurances they would not allow terrorist groups to use Taliban-held areas to plot international attacks.
In return, U.S. and allied nations would stage a "conditions-based" drawdown from Afghanistan.
The Taliban repeatedly has urged Washington to resume the stalled dialogue to conclude the deal that insurgent officials insist is just awaiting signatures from the two sides in the presence of international guarantors.
The insurgent group refuses to cease hostilities against the Kabul government or enter into an intra-Afghan peace process until it concludes a peace agreement with the U.S. to bring an end to what the Taliban denounces as "foreign occupation" of Afghanistan.