KABUL: The Taliban confirmed on Tuesday that officials from the US, UN, Qatar, and Turkey had recently held talks with the group to persuade them to take part in a crucial conference on the Afghan peace process.
Last week the Taliban said it would boycott the meeting in Turkey later this month — and future talks on the peace process — until all US-led foreign troops had withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Earlier this month US President Joe Biden delayed the deadline for a total troop withdrawal from May 1 to Sept. 11.
The withdrawal was a key condition and basis for an historic agreement that was signed between President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.
“Delegates of the US, Turkey, Qatar and the UN have been holding meetings with our office in Qatar for settling the issue,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News on Tuesday. “It is not clear if these meetings, which are ongoing, will produce any result or not. But such meetings do not mean we are backing away from our stance.”
The Turkey meeting was proposed by Washington DC. weeks ahead of Biden’s move to delay the withdrawal process to prevent a total collapse of US-sponsored talks in Qatar, which began between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators last September but have failed to make progress.
The meeting, which has already been delayed once, is seeking to facilitate a future political roadmap for Afghanistan, including the formation of an interim government that would also include the Taliban and end President Ashraf Ghani’s second term in office, which is set to expire in 2024.
Dr. Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Qatar office, told Arab News that there was “no change” on the group’s part regarding its participation in the Turkey meeting.
“There is nothing new in this regard,” he said.
The Taliban accuses Washington D.C. of infringing the deal by extending the troops’ presence in Afghanistan. The deal was designed to end the longest conflict in US history which began with the Taliban’s removal from office in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Observers said that Biden’s move led to a loss of the Taliban’s trust in Washington D.C., with several commenting that it had also put the Taliban political leaders in Qatar in a dilemma.
“It is unlikely that the group will attend Turkey’s meeting,” former Taliban commander Said Akbar Agha told Arab News. “The Taliban now do not and cannot trust America. After nearly two years of tough talks, you (the US) agree on a deal, and then you break one key part of it. The Taliban seem to have lost any trust in America after this.”
Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a Kabul-based analyst, said that some Taliban leaders had been holding meetings with the group’s field commanders “to seek their view” on the extension of foreign troops’ presence in the country and participation in the Turkey meeting.
“So far, these meetings have produced no result,” he told Arab News. “The Taliban political leaders can find a justification for the pull-out deadline and Turkey’s talks provided, possibly, the remaining 7,000 Taliban prisoners are freed and names of Taliban are removed from the blacklist. The Taliban waited for 20 years for America to go. They can wait for some more months too perhaps.”
Former government adviser Torek Farhadi doubted that any pressure would work on the Taliban unless they got everything they wanted immediately which, he said, was impossible.
“The US will do the conference without the Taliban,” he told Arab News. “After they leave, they have said it is up to all Afghans (to decide on their future and make peace).”
He said that once the foreign troops had left the US would no longer be offering any guarantees for Kabul except to finance the national forces, but not to keep Ghani in power.
“After the foreign troops’ departure, other political leaders will agree to a truce with the Taliban. Ghani will look odd wanting to defend his presidency. It is not sure at that point the local troops would fight to keep Ghani in the palace.”