ISLAMABAD, Sept. 10 – Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a video interview that Taliban and US negotiating teams were still in contact and that the Taliban have shared their concerns with the US side on President Trump’s cancelation of lengthy peace talks.
On Saturday, Trump unexpectedly announced in a series of Twitter posts that he had canceled a secret summit with major Taliban leaders at Camp David due to an attack in Kabul last week which killed 12 people, including an American soldier.
Shaheen told the Taliban “al-emarah” website in a Pashto language interview posted on Tuesday, that the Taliban have sought “official clarification” from the American negotiating team about the cancelation, which came despite finalizing the draft of an agreement for a drawdown in US troops from America’s longest war, one of Trump’s foreign policy objectives.
“There are contacts between the negotiation teams. We had contact with them since long which is still intact. We have conveyed our concerns and they have also informed us about their stance. We have called for official clarification about the recent developments and we await their response,” the Taliban spokesman said.
For now, Washington has recalled its special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator.
But Shaheen said Trump’s argument for pulling the plug on talks was misplaced and that American and other foreign forces had also intensified ground operations, aerial bombings and night raids, with the Taliban simply responding in kind.
“He (Trump) talked about the attack in Kabul but there was no cease-fire. They (US forces) also carried out operations and night raids in different provinces like Badakhshan, Farah, Kunduz and Helmand to provoke reaction from the Islamic Emirate,” Shaheen said, referring to the Taliban’s preferred title.
“They conducted operations when the negotiations with us were ongoing. I think the single attack was no justification to call off the talks. They should have also stopped attacks if they object to our attack. If they think attacks harm peace talks, then why were they conducting operations,” the Taliban spokesman said.
He also referred to a recent statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said American forces had killed 1,000 Taliban in ten days. Shaheen said the dead were mostly Afghan civilians.
After news emerged of the Camp David scenario, Trump was heavily criticized for planning to host the militant group on US soil, days before the 18th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda led Sept. 11, 2001 attacks where almost 3,000 people had died, and whose mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban had sheltered.
Shaheen confirmed the Camp David invitation which he said the group’s Qatar representatives had accepted.
“Yes, they (the US government) had extended invitation to us through Khalilzad at the end of August and we accepted the invitation but we told them to let the agreement be signed and announced first at a ceremony attended by foreign ministers from other countries,” Shaheen said.
The timing of Trump’s Twitter posts had taken the group’s political leaders by surprise, Shaheen said, because they came after the final draft agreement had already been handed over to Qatari officials to pick a date for the formal signing.
“Trump’s unexpected tweets were surprising for us. There was neither any indication about Trump’s decision, nor did the US side make new demands during the last meetings which were also attended by Khalilzad, the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Miller, and Mullah Baradar,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen said the group remained committed to a peaceful settlement, but added that if peace was not an option, the group was prepared to wage war.
“Our position is clear. We want a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem. If not, we have been waging jihad for 18 years and want to end Afghanistan’s invasion (by US and foreign forces) through jihad and to establish an Islamic system,” he said, referring to the Islamic concept of holy war.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Pompeo told CNN that the US would not withdraw its troops on a timeline, or stop supporting Afghan forces, if “the Taliban don’t behave.”