But while both Afghan and Taliban officials have issued recent statements saying they were engaged in the talks, hoping to resolve the country’s 19-year conflict through discussions, their messages were colored by anger and blame for being sick of it. new round. Some observers in Kabul predicted that talks resuming after a two-week holiday break would likely collapse.
“The demand from the people of Afghanistan is that the bloodshed should end forever in this country,” Massoom Stanekzai, a former national intelligence chief who heads the Kabul delegation, said in a video released on Twitter on Tuesday. “The people of Afghanistan are suffering from the terror that the war has created every day, every night, every moment.”
The Taliban, which equated the issue of civilian killings, issued a harsh statement on Monday hitting the U.S. government and condemning U.S. military airstrikes on civilian areas. It warned that “such harmful acts” could both threaten their February pact and also “jeopardize” progress in resolving issues among Afghans, which “led to despair.”
U.S. military officials responded here with unusual speed and sharpness, saying Monday that the United States declared policy is to “defend Afghan forces” against Taliban attacks. For the first time, they also directly accused the rebels of having carried out the recent wave of targeted killings of journalists, civic leaders and government officials.
Taliban spokesmen have denied similar allegations by Afghan officials, suggesting they are similar to a “survival tactic” by President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which narrowly won re-election last year but has lost public support as violence and economic problems persist.
The Taliban’s accusations [that] The United States violated the agreement between the United States and TB is false, “tweeted Colonel Sonny Leggett, the US spokesman here. “The Taliban’s campaign of unused attacks and targeted killings of civil servants, civil society leaders and journalists must also end in order for peace to succeed.”
Although the status of the US-Taliban pact does not appear to be related to the domestic issues of religion, power sharing and democratic freedoms that Afghan and Taliban leaders are destined to negotiate, it is a critical but highly contested factor in the Afghan talks.
Under that agreement, the Trump administration agreed to gradually withdraw most U.S. troops early this year and join the rebels’ main demands. There are now about 5,000 troops in the country, and the number is expected to drop to 2,500 next month. In return, Taliban negotiators agreed to reduce violence, avoid targeting US forces and sever ties with al-Qaida and other extremists.
Many Afghans say the Taliban have not fulfilled these promises and that the US concessions gave the religious militia too much leverage over a weak Afghan government during the current talks. The insurgents, meanwhile, are worried that the upcoming Biden administration will set further conditions before continuing the promised troop management.
At the moment, however, the message from Washington, in the midst of a tense and contested presidential transition, is confused. On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the Taliban for not killing any Americans since the pact was signed, suggesting it will be kept. The next day, the U.S. military condemned the rash of civilian killings as an obstacle to peace.
Khalilzad, who is meeting with Pakistani, Afghan and Taliban leaders during his current regional visit in an effort to improve the chances of revived talks, called the targeted killings “unacceptable” but did not directly accuse the Taliban.
He also hinted at problems on the Afghan side, where there are sharp divisions between President Ashraf Ghani and some negotiators. Ghani is determined to end his five-year term, but critics insist that an interim government be set up because the Taliban refuse to recognize his administration and will never make peace with it.
There are also disagreements about how hard it is to pressure the Taliban for a nationwide ceasefire that it has resisted. In a statement on Tuesday welcoming the resumption of talks, UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons said “stopping fighting would create a better atmosphere for talks” and allow winter aid to be delivered to rural areas.
Taliban officials, while pointing out Pompeo’s positive comments, stated in a statement Monday that they are now “in a relatively stronger political and military position” than at any previous time. For several months, the rebels have been waging a relentless and deadly campaign of attack on Afghan targets across the country.
Their efforts to act as a “responsible party” and resolve disagreements with other Afghans at the table, they said, “should never be read as weakness.”
Sharif Hassan contributed to this story.