KABUL: The Taliban on Tuesday warned the US it would “soon regret” closing the door on Afghan peace talks after President Donald Trump said negotiations with the militants were “dead.”
In a statement to Arab News, the Taliban pledged to continue fighting to drive American troops from Afghanistan.
With presidential elections due to take place later this month, the UN described Afghanistan’s “volatile security situation” as “highly concerning,” while Russia said Trump’s decision to call off talks with the Taliban was a “negative sign” that could trigger an escalation of the 18-year-long conflict.
After nearly a year of intensive talks between US diplomats and Taliban delegates in Qatar, hopes had been running high that both sides would sign a peace deal last week.
However, after a US soldier was killed in a Taliban attack in Kabul last Thursday, Trump abruptly cancelled planned secret meetings on Sunday at his Camp David retreat with the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“As far as I’m concerned, they (talks with the Taliban) are dead,” Trump told White House reporters.
Reacting to the US president’s announcement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “To end the US occupation in Afghanistan, we had two options. One was the path of jihad and struggle, the second was understanding and talks.
“If Trump has closed the door to talks then we will take the first option and they (the Americans) will soon regret it,” he said.
The Afghan government has so far made no comment about Trump’s decision. Kabul had been excluded from all the Qatar talks on the insistence of the Taliban and had serious reservations about them.
One of the main conditions of the planned peace deal had been the gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan with the Taliban vowing in return not to allow Afghan soil to be used against any country.
Following Trump’s drastic policy change, Ghani, who in the past had set no conditions for kick-starting negotiations with the Taliban, said on Monday that talks would not now be possible until the group agreed to a cease-fire.
Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, who has held talks with Taliban leaders and was instrumental in arranging two major rounds of intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow, slammed Trump’s move as a “negative sign.”
Speaking to the Itar-Taas news agency, Kabulov said he feared the war in Afghanistan would now escalate. Russia and the Taliban have been pushing for a total departure of US-led troops from the country.
On Monday Trump said: “We’d like to get out (of Afghanistan) but we’ll get out at the right time.”
Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to Ghani, said Trump had ditched talks with the Taliban because of internal pressures from those “who earn billions of dollars from selling and producing” military equipment.
“These people have a significant role in the elections in America, so Trump has taken this decision for his re-election bid,” Saadat told Arab News.
Trump had been criticized in some quarters for even entertaining the possibility of hosting the Taliban just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the US. Like American and Afghan forces, the Taliban had never agreed to end their violent campaign against Afghan and foreign military while negotiations were taking place. Sixteen US troops have been killed this year.
Mujahid said discussions with the Americans had been going well until Saturday but pulling out of the peace process had shown the US’s lack of maturity and experience.
The Taliban now control more Afghan territory than at any point before the 2001 US-led invasion. The militant group had refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government until a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops had been finalized. The Taliban have also been fighting with affiliates of Daesh in Afghanistan.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Daesh remained resilient in Afghanistan despite “a high pace” of operations against it by government and international forces. He urged all armed groups not to interfere in the upcoming presidential elections.
The UN chief said in a report to the Security Council on Monday that between mid-June and early September, 183 incidents were attributed to Daesh fighters — nearly double the 93 incidents during the same period in 2018.
Guterres said Afghanistan’s “volatile security situation is highly concerning,” citing direct threats to the presidential election, scheduled for Sept. 28, “by anti-government elements that may discourage many Afghans from voting.”
He called on the Taliban and other armed groups, including Daesh, “to desist from threatening or targeting electoral staff, candidates or voters.” He also urged anti-government forces to refrain from damaging electoral sites and to allow the Afghan people “to exercise their political rights in safety and without fear of violence.”